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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

Virtual tour of the State Library

360 degree panorama of the Circulating Library at the State Library of SA

360o panorama of the Circulating Library in the Institute Building at the State Library of SA.

Read more about the history of this room in our Library Guide.

The Circulating Library is a venue for hire

360 degree panorama of the Mortlock Wing at the State Library of SA

360o panorama of the Mortlock Chamber at the State Library of SA.

Read more about the history of the Chamber in our Library Guide.

The Mortlock Chamber is open to the public and also is a venue for hire, which means that at times the Chamber might be closed to the public.


360 degree panorama of the Spence Library at the State Library of SA

360o panorama of the Spence Library at the State Library of SA.

Read more about the history of this wing in our Library Guide.



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]

Building and Room Names

The State Library commemorates distinguished South Australians in its naming of the buildings, rooms and other areas of the redeveloped State Library. All names commemorated before the redevelopment began in 2001 continue to be used.

The building names were suggested by senior State Library staff from among a number of South Australians with connections to the State Library of South Australia. A consultation process followed with family or estates of the people selected. The formal approval process involved the Libraries Board of South Australia and in the case of the building names, the Geographical Names Board and the Minister for the Arts.

The names of sponsors are recognised on a Sponsors Board in the foyer. There are many benefactors to the Library who have donated money or collections who are not named here, and enquiries about these donors should be made at the Information Desk or Ask Us service. Further information is also available in the Benefactors and donated collections guide.

Spence Wing