Customs House Library

Customs House Library

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Harbourside heritage

Located in one of Sydney's finest historical landmarks, the Customs House Library spans 3 levels and highlights the building's contemporary and traditional design features. It houses a collection of more than 50,000 items and is open 7 days a week.

To become a member complete an online application or fill in a form when you next visit. It is free to join if you are a NSW resident.

Opening hours

  • Monday to Friday, 10am to 7pm
  • Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 4pm
  • Closed on public holidays.

Features

  • Relaxing lounges on the ground and first floors invite you to sit down and absorb the building's unique atmosphere.
  • Beautiful and quiet grand reading room on the second floor.
  • Large selection of local and international newspapers and magazines.
  • Free wireless internet.
  • Public access computers.
  • Scanning, printing and photocopying facilities. 
  • Access to many high quality databases.
  • Regular exhibitions and cultural events.
  • Collections in Japanese and Korean.

Loans, returns and renewals

You'll find library catalogue computers on the ground, first and second floors. Loans desks are located on levels 1 and 2. You can borrow up to 30 items for up to 3 weeks.

Returns can be made up until 11.30pm on the ground floor.

Renewals are available online (with your library card number) or you can send an email to library@cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au. You can also telephone or drop in to the branch.

Contacts

Customs House Library
31 Alfred Street
Circular Quay NSW 2001
02 9242 8555
TTY: 02 9242 8575 (hearing impaired people)

  • What’s on
  • Free heartfulness relaxation and meditation in Circular Quay
    Thursday 30 June 2016
  • Book now

    This is a group for anyone interested in heartfulness meditation. Strengthen that connection and cultivate an inner knowing that wisely directs and guides our lives. Grow to face the challenges of life with courage and acceptance. Live by the heart, and become what we’re meant to be. People young and old from any walk of life can come and try out the meditation – it is simple, easy and the only requirement being one’s own willingness to give it a fair go. This meditation is free of cost. We welcome one and all to come and experience this meditation.

    If you can, please RSVP.

    The meeting room is next to the lifts on level 2 of Customs House.

    Customs House Library
    Thursdays, 5.30pm to 6.30pm

    Thursday 10 March to Thursday 28 July 2016

  • Book club at Customs House Library
    Friday 1 July 2016
  • Book now

    Join a book club for a friendly discussion of literature of all kinds. Our monthly club, held at Customs House Library, covers a range of genres, including award winners, contemporary and classic fiction, poetry, historical fiction, crime novels, biographies and quarterly essays.

    The Customs House book club has recently explored the works of William Boyd. Next in their sights is Frank Moorhouse’s trilogy on the formation of the United Nations.

    The Customs House Library book club meets on the first Friday of each month.

    Bookings recommended.

    Customs House Library
    Friday 3 June 2016 from 1pm to 2pm
    Friday 1 July 2016 from 1pm to 2pm
    Friday 5 August 2016 from 1pm to 2pm
    Friday 2 September 2016 from 1pm to 2pm
    Friday 7 October 2016 from 1pm to 2pm
    Friday 4 November 2016 from 1pm to 2pm
    Friday 2 December 2016 from 1pm to 2pm
  • Winter Warmers @ Customs House Library
    Tuesday 5 July 2016
  • Book now

    It may be cold outside, but staying indoors doesn’t have to mean more screen time.

    We will be hosting chill-themed craft activities like snow dome making, windy day kites, mobiles, and colourful dreamcatchers to brighten up the grey winter days and keep kids entertained these school holiday.

    These free sessions are suitable for 5-8 year olds.

    Bookings open now.

    Customs House Library
    Tuesday 5 July 2016 from 11am to 12pm
  • Late Night Library: The Mission Songs Project
    Tuesday 5 July 2016
  • Book now

    The Mission Songs Project is an initiative to research and present a collection of Indigenous songs that were composed and performed from 1900 to 1999. It highlights songs from the Christian missions, Aboriginal reserves and the fringes of township were Indigenous people were relocated.

    This Late Night Library session will feature a selection of mission songs from across Australia and a discussion on the sensitivities required in the gathering and interpretation of cultural songs for stage productions. It features artists Leah Flanagan, Jessie Lloyd, Monia Weightman.

    This event is part of NAIDOC Week, an annual celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

    Book now.

    This event is part of Late Night Library’s winter season of unique musical encounters. Talented musicians, composers and artists explore ideas around culture, health and literature through music.

    Presented by Musica Viva and City of Sydney Library.

    Customs House Library
    Tuesday 5 July 2016 from 8pm to 9pm

    Please note, this Late Night Library event is on TUESDAY, not the usual Wednesday evening.

  • Late Night Library: Music Therapy
    Wednesday 20 July 2016
  • Book now

    Evidence of the existence of music dates back to as far back as 10 000 BC. Around this time, people began to attribute magical properties to sound. Centuries later, music is known to have been used to treat notable figures in European nobility. But it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th Century, in the post-WWII period, that musical therapy began to expand as a profession. Therapy through music involves both listening and making and has been linked to treatments of mood, neurological and psychiatric disorders. Even a cursory YouTube search brings up countless audio tracks to help us study, concentrate or sleep.

    This free Late Night Library event explores the healing powers of music and sound.

    Join music therapist, Joanne McIntyre (Chair of the NSW Branch of the Australian Music Therapy Association) as she illustrates music therapy practically using djembes in a drum circle, while Dr. Sandra Garrido (MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development) discusses the neurological and psychological mechanisms by which music communicates and arouses emotions in us.

    This event is part of Late Night Library’s winter season of unique musical encounters. Talented musicians, composers and artists explore ideas around culture, health and literature through music.

    Presented by Musica Viva and City of Sydney Library.

    Book now.

    Customs House Library
    Wednesday 20 July 2016 from 8pm to 9pm
  • Classics at Customs: The Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs
    Wednesday 20 July 2016
  • Book now

    The Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs was an organisation established in Sydney in 1964 to assist Aboriginal people and families, especially those newly arrived to the city.

    Ted Noffs, Bill Geddes, Charles Perkins and Ken Brindle were instrumental in the start of the non-profit organisation, raising money through donations and hosting dance nights at Redfern Town Hall. The Foundation offered a wide range of community services for the local Aboriginal population including food, accommodation and travel assistance, rental bond arrangements, scholarships and legal aid. It also operated as a gathering place for Aboriginal people and many Indigenous performers were promoted through the Foundation including Jimmy Little, Candy Williams and Col Hardy.

    By the mid-1970s the Foundation was being run entirely by Aboriginal people and had 15 staff, however it was folded in 1977 due to a lack of funding and ongoing support. The remaining records of the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs are held in the Mitchell Library.

    Gain insight into the records of the Foundation at this free talk lunchtime talk, with Kirsten Thorpe, Coordinator, and Ronald Briggs, Librarian with the Indigenous Unit at the State Library of New South Wales.

    Our buildings, archives and people hold many stories. Go back in time through stories and visual artefacts at our Classics at Customs House series.

    Customs House Library
    Wednesday 20 July 2016 from 12.30pm to 1.30pm
  • Late Night Library: Story Soundscapes
    Wednesday 3 August 2016
  • Book now

    Bertie Blackman is a unique multi-disciplinary artist with commercial and independent success as a singer-songwriter, visual artist, composer, and filmmaker. She is also a writer, currently finishing her first children’s story book.

    Musica Viva has invited Bertie to work with its ensemble the Arcadia Quintet, and emerging Sydney composer Elizabeth Younan, to re-imagine her book as a multi-faceted artwork including new compositions of song and music. Bertie will read her story and then join the Quintet to perform the musical soundscape that Elizabeth has interpreted from Bertie’s words.

    Book now.

    This event is part of Late Night Library’s winter season of unique musical encounters. Talented musicians, composers and artists explore ideas around culture, health and literature through music.

    Presented by Musica Viva and City of Sydney Library.

    Customs House Library
    Wednesday 3 August 2016 from 8pm to 9pm
  • Classics at Customs House: The Sydney Harbour Bridge
    Wednesday 17 August 2016
  • Book now

    Our Harbour Bridge, lovingly known as the ‘coat hanger’, is an Australian icon that has inspired many songs, artworks, and poems.

    Its presence on the harbour arrived after decades of heated debate over how to bridge a yawning gap separating our harbour city and cutting North from South.

    Building it was an epic achievement in engineering and took 1,400 men eight years at a cost of £4.2 million. Six million hand driven rivets and 53,000 tonnes of steel were used. Its official opening was interrupted by the slashing of the ribbon by a horseman with a political agenda. Today, the bridge carries eight traffic lanes and two rail lines, coming and going.

    Join us for this talk with Anni Turnbull, social history curator at the State Library to explore the history of the Harbour Bridge through the voices of the builders, the drawings of engineers and the images of photographers and painters.

    Our buildings, archives and people hold many stories. Go back in time through stories and visual artefacts at our Classics at Customs House series.

    Customs House Library
    Wednesday 17 August 2016 from 12.30pm to 1.30pm
  • Late Night Library: Letters of Complaint
    Thursday 8 September 2016
  • Book now

    Join some of Sydney’s leading comedians as they share the best, worst and most bizarre letters of complaint from the deep recesses of the City of Sydney archives. From a noisy sausage machine, to the bothersome smell of boiling tripe, this Late Night Library event indulges in a long list of comical neighbourly gripes.

    Settle in to the Customs House Reading Room and rediscover Sydney’s history in the words of those who lived in here.

    Presented by Creative City Sydney, City of Sydney Library and blackcat productions

    A History Week 2016 event.

    Book now.

    Customs House Library
    Thursday 8 September 2016 from 8pm to 9pm
  • Classics @ Customs House: Australia's First Professional Artist
    Wednesday 21 September 2016
  • Book now

    The making of art in early Sydney is often seen as unusual, bad, and not an accurate representation of the places it depicted. It’s commonly said that early artists couldn’t ‘see’ Australia truthfully – instead reverting to stereotypes of English art. However the story is much more complicated than that. Art was for many colonists a trade rather than a profession, commissioned to make a record rather than respond aesthetically or emotionally to a place or person as a modern artist might.

    This free lunchtime talk with Richard Neville, Mitchell Librarian and Director of Education & Scholarship at the State Library of NSW will examine in detail the life of John William Lewin (1770-1819), Sydney’s first free professional artist.

    Lewin who arrived in NSW in 1800 as a working-class natural history illustrator, was inspired by what he saw, and died (at least in his own eyes) a successful gentleman artist. The curious trajectory of Lewin’s Australian career reflects broadly on the experiences of making art in NSW: its motivations, market and influences.

    Our buildings, archives and people hold many stories. Go back in time through stories and visual artifacts at our Classics at Customs House series.

    Customs House Library
    Wednesday 21 September 2016 from 12.30pm to 1.30pm

Last updated: Tuesday, 29 March 2016