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History of the State Library of South Australia: Home

Details the Library's interesting history from 1834, its buildings, legislation, Board membership, staff and exhibitions.

For thousands of years the Kaurna people of the Adelaide plains have told their stories and kept their memories of this place alive in their oral tradition. Today, a greeting stone by Uncle Lewis O’Brien of the Kaurna people at the entrance to the State Library of South Australia welcomes visitors to a place that also keeps the memories of the state alive.

South Australia differed from other Australian colonies by planning a library for public use even before settlement. Just two weeks after the passing of the South Australia Act by the British Parliament on 14 August 1834, an enthusiastic group of prospective colonists led by Richard Hanson and Robert Gouger formed the South Australian Literary Association on 29 August. Its object was 'the cultivation and diffusion of useful knowledge throughout the colony'. The members donated a collection of useful books as the basis of the colony’s library, and two years later brought the books out on the Tam O'Shanter in an iron trunk, which also contained the constitution of the colony, arriving on 18 December 1836.

A reconstructed list of the South Australian Literary and Scientific Association is given below. About 40 of the books have survived as the Gouger Collection, and some are on display in the State Library as seen below.


Books about us


The story of the State Library of South Australia and its three buildings is rich and complex, and this Library Guide can only touch the surface. The Library's history is summarised in an extensive chronology here.

Our family tree

The State Library of South Australia family tree

  1. South Australian Literary Association 1834
  2. South Australian Literary and Scientific Association 1834
  3. Adelaide Mechanics Institute 1838
  4. Adelaide Literary and Scientific Association and Mechanics Institute (ALSAMI) formed from an amalgamation of the above bodies  1839
  5. South Australian Subscription Library (SASL) 1844
  6. South Australian Subscription Library and Mechanics Institute (SASLMI) formed from amalgamation of ALSAMI and SASL 1848
  7. South Australian Institute 1856
    [Institute Building 1861]
  8. Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery 1884
    [Public Library building 1884, from 1967 Jervois Wing, since 2003 Mortlock Wing]
  9. Public Library of South Australia 1940
  10. State Library of South Australia 1967
    [Bastyan Wing 1967, since 2003 Spence Wing]