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Woolahra Library at Double Bay
Photograph: John Gollings

The best libraries in Sydney

Libraries are moving with the times, providing nourishment for the mind and the soul

By Tamar Cranswick

Dusty libraries stuffed with shelves of long-forgotten books, where silence was ordered and imagination limited, are a thing of the past. The best modern libraries are beautifully designed, high-tech, and alive with possibilities. Some even have slippery slides.

Whether you’re looking for a quiet corner to read in comfort, or want to immerse yourself in their rich resources, here’s our collection of Sydney’s top libraries. While many of them are currently closed, you can still get yor hands on some analog books with services allowing patrons to choose the books and resources they'd like to borrow, and then collect them from the library. 

If you're looking for more inspiration, we've got 90 suggestions for early risers in Sydney.

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Sydney's best libraries

1. Woollahra Library at Double Bay

Attractions Libraries Double Bay

This Willy Wonka of libraries could convert even the most ardent library sceptic. The three-level space is bursting with greenery, from the vertical plant wall to the hanging vines that cascade from above; giving the feeling of being in the midst of an indoor garden. The children’s area is ripe for fostering growing imaginations, with arts and crafts, cushioned wall crevices and even a slippery slide! The clever design continues on the second level with the wide staircase doubling as an amphitheatre. Head upstairs again, and you’ll find meeting rooms and private booths as well as an impressive local history collection. Did we mention there’s a fireplace? You may not ever want to leave.

Note: Woollahra Library is currently closed, but you can book in for a free 'Select and Collect' appointment, where you decide the books and resources you'd like to borrow, which are then left for you to pick up. 

Green Square Library
Green Square Library
Photograph: Katherine Griffiths

2. Green Square Library

Attractions Libraries Zetland

We can be happy underground. That’s certainly true when visiting the subterranean Green Square Library. From the street level, the skyline is reflected on glass blocks that make up the exterior of the building. Step inside, and you’ll find the library’s collection under street level. The main space is conceived as a living room, complete with a kids' corner and pint-size nooks built into the walls for children to crawl into with a book. In the middle of the collection space is a sunken garden; the perfect place to sit and read under the sun. Rising from the other end of the library is a six-level glass tower, which houses a music room, replete with a baby grand piano.

Note: Green Square Library is currently closed, but you can reserve your books and resources in advance and pick them up them from the library from June 3. 

State Library of NSW Mitchell Reading Room
State Library of NSW Mitchell Reading Room
Photograph: Supplied

3. State Library of NSW

Things to do Sydney

The grand old dame of libraries, the State Library is the oldest in the country – stepping inside you can almost feel the weight of all the words that have been read between its walls. The first floor houses rotating exhibitions, including the World Press Photo Contest. Below street level lies the reference collection and partitioned study rooms. The studious, and those seeking respite from the bustle of the outside world, can ensconce themselves in the high-domed, light-filled Mitchell Reading Room. The recently opened John B Fairfax Learning Centre is designed to redress the idea that kids should, at best, be seen but not heard in public libraries. Role play and dress ups are encouraged to draw children into stories – never fear though, the room is soundproof.

Marrickville Library
Marrickville Library
Photograph: Supplied

4. Marrickville Library and Pavilion

Attractions Libraries Marrickville

You could read at home, or you could read inside an award-winning, architecturally designed building that makes quiet time a joy? If you choose the latter, head to Marrickville library and join the 2000 people per day that visit: be it for the rhyme time that packs out the ground floor children’s section; for the historic art collection that they brought out of the closed stack into the dedicated art floor; or to peruse the impressive collection of international and domestic periodicals, from high fashion mags to special interest publications on everything from politics to organic gardening. 

People reading inside Customs House Library
People reading inside Customs House Library
Photograph: Paul Gosney

5. Customs House Library

Art Circular Quay

This heritage listed building mixes beautiful design with contemporary comforts and is the perfect place for a pitstop or to while away the hours in the company of a good book. A helix staircase connects the three levels, with light pouring in through the atrium above. The Grand Reading Room is just that, bookshelves line the walls and light from the harbour-facing windows reaches to banquette style study tables. There’s an extensive range of Japanese and Korean texts available as well as music scores. The ground floor of the library, which used to accommodate the magazine and newspaper collection, is currently undergoing a revamp. Rumour is it may end up as an adult gaming centre.

Note: Green Square Library is currently closed, but you can reserve your books and resources in advance and pick them up them from the library from June 3. 

Coming soon...

Artist's impression of the new library
Image: Lend Lease

The Exchange Darling Square

Attractions Libraries Haymarket

The City of Sydney’s brand new library is due to open in mid-2019. The six-storey building called the Exchange has been designed by globally acclaimed architecture firm Kengo Kuma Architects and it will include a new library housed across two floors, a public plaza, a childcare centre, a rooftop bar and restaurants. 

Artist's impression of development
Image: Parramatta City Council

Parramatta Square

Parramatta is getting a new civic building, which will contain a new futuristic library. The new design comes from French firm Manuelle Gautrand Architecture and Australian firms DesignInc and Lacoste + Stevenson, and it shows a six-storey building complete with a public library, roof garden and technology hub.

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Books at Better Read Than Dead
Photograph: Mitch Lui

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