Explore the collections of Australia’s biggest reference library to find books from all over the world, early European maps and documents from the first explorers.
The National Library of Australia is the most comprehensive reference library in the country. It was formed as the National Parliamentary Library in 1901 and became the National Library in 1960. Its collection includes Asian literary works and documents, rare books and manuscripts, photographs, maps, paintings, music and video. Browse the archives, choose something interesting and settle down in a reading room. There are over 10 million items in the library catalogue, so you’re sure to find something to your taste. The periodicals section has copies of the first newspaper printed in Australia as well as an enormous range of overseas publications. Explore the manuscripts archive to see gems like Captain Cook’s journal and original documents written by the country’s first prime minister.
Brush up on your Aboriginal history in the Indigenous section or dig up old folk tales in the Oral History and Folk Law collections. The Asian history and culture section has a huge range of material from Japan, China and other countries in the region. You’ll find Buddhist scriptures from the 12th century as well as artworks and accounts from missionaries.
Move on to the maps rooms to see the first Dutch charts of the Australian coast, military plans, old atlases, and street directories. Pore over the image archives to see historical photographs and paintings. Dancers and lovers of the performing arts should look over the selection of materials from touring Australian dance and theatre companies.
The National Library of Australia also runs guided tours and holds special exhibitions throughout the year. The library is about one mile (1.6 kilometers) from Parliament House and there are several pay parking lots. ACTION buses from Canberra’s central business district stop here as well as other major attractions.
The library is open every day except Good Friday and Christmas Day. Admission is free, and there’s an on-site café, bookshop, and several reading rooms (check the library’s website for opening hours of individual rooms).