A brief history

A brief history

Historical milestones

The City of Sydney Library has been part of the city's historical landscape for just over 100 years.

During these years the Library has undergone some amazing transformations – from its humble beginnings in a city basement to its current location in one of Sydney's finest heritage buildings, Customs House. Read on to find out more about the Library's fascinating history.


Plans to build a new library in Redfern or Chippendale are taking shape, and a library link for residents in Erskineville and the new Ashmore area are on the drawing board. Green Square membership continues to grow.


The Surry Hills Library continues to win awards, taking out the gong for Best New Global Design at the prestigious International Architecture Awards in Chicago plus the 2011 Marketing Awards for NSW Public Libraries (Programs category) for Late Night Library.


Surry Hills Library and Community Centre by Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp (fjmt) wins awards: AIA Award for Public Architecture, the Milo Dunphy Award for Sustainable Architecture, and the John Verge Award for Interior Architecture.

Green Square Library and Community Centre opens.


Official opening of the magnificent Surry Hills Library and Community Centre at 405 Crown Street on 13 June. The same year, the library's builders win a Master Builders Australia construction award.


We offer free wireless Internet access at all branches.


Customs House Library comes in at number 1 in a Sydney Morning Herald list of the city's 5 best libraries.


Customs House Library wins a swag of architectural awards for interior design, lighting and adaptive re-use of a National Trust building. Construction starts on the new Surry Hills Library.


The Town Hall branch becomes a Library Link and its collection is relocated to exciting new premises at Customs House, Circular Quay.


The City adds branches in Newtown, Paddington, Surry Hills and Waterloo to its library network after council amalgamations. The Kings Cross library branch moves to new premises.


The City gains branch libraries in Kings Cross and Glebe.


Members receive remote access to a range of research databases.We introduce DVDs to our collection. Renewals become available 24/7 due to a new automated telephone system.


Refurbishment of Haymarket Library begins. We provide free access to major international databases for members; expand our music CD collection; and offer Internet courses in English and Chinese.


The Ultimo branch reopens in the new Ultimo Community Recreation Centre, focusing on children's activities/story time and public Internet access.


The City Library moves into Town Hall House on Kent Street. New features include a 'Sound Lounge' and 'the Sydney Room' devoted to local studies.


The City Library is reduced to the libraries in Haymarket, Ultimo and on Pitt Street, which moves to the City's Town Hall House.


The Haymarket branch library undergoes a major refurbishment. During early 1990, the Ultimo branch library closes while a new library and community centre is built.


The Ultimo branch library opens.


The City Library moves to 321 Pitt Street while the Queen Victoria building undergoes a refurbishment.


The City gains the Haymarket branch library, which caters especially to the Chinese speaking community.


Waterloo Library opens as a branch of the City of Sydney Library.


To gain more space, the City Library moves to the Town Hall end of the Queen Victoria building. Mrs Sarah Walters becomes the first female appointed City Librarian.


The City Library's areas are reduced to the Kings Cross, Paddington, Surry Hills, Woolloomooloo branch libraries and the Mobile Library Service


City Librarian Frank Lancelot Sutherland Bell suddenly dies (21 December). Deputy Librarian John (Jack) Lyons succeeds Frank.


Kings Cross Library opens as part of the City of Sydney Library.


The City gains control of the Sydney Information Centre, which is staffed from the Library. The Centre continues to operate and in 1998 was under the control and responsibility of the City of Sydney Public Affairs Unit. The Customer Service unit now looks after the tourist information kiosks.


Branches open in Surry Hills and Glebe.


Mobile Library Service for the housebound commences.


Branches open in Alexandria and Paddington.


New branch libraries are established in Alexandria, Paddington, Surry Hills, Glebe, Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo plus a Mobile Library Service and Mobile Branch Library are created for the house-bound.


Due to expanding stock the City Library moves to the Queen Victoria Building's old concert hall. A newspaper room is introduced and the juvenile section expands into a separate children's library.


The Library's management transfer from the State Government to the Municipal Council of Sydney is finalised. The Library is officially named the Sydney Municipal Library and Mr Charles H Bertie is appointed City Librarian.


Previously under the State Government's control, the lending branch of the Library passes into the hands of the Municipal Council of Sydney.


The lending branch of the library moves from the Macquarie Street building to the second floor of the Queen Victoria Market Building (now the Queen Victoria Building).


The lending branch moves into the former Presbyterian Church building in Macquarie Street, the present site of the State Library. It's this branch of the Free Public Library of Sydney that later becomes the City of Sydney Public Library.


A lending branch of the Library opens in the basement of a building on the corner of Bent Street and Macquarie Street. This is the same site that opened in 1869. By the end of the year there are 1,225 registered borrowers.


The NSW Government takes over the Australian Subscription Library and Reading Room, purchasing the books and site which was on the corner of Bent Street and Macquarie Street.


The origin of the City of Sydney Library can be traced back to the establishment in 1826 of the Australian Subscription Library and Reading Room.

Last updated: Monday, 13 February 2017