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.
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Sydney's best libraries
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.
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.
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.
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.
On any given day you’ll find a mixed bag of patrons at the Ultimo Library, from retirees fresh from a Zumba workout at the community centre below to students and parents with little ones to tow. Reflecting the diverse community coming through its doors, the library is home to Chinese language texts and newspapers and hosts bilingual story time sessions in English and Mandarin. For the older kids, there’s a sizable young-adult collection and for the adults, there’s regular skills workshops.
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.
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.