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Parliamentary Library — M618North Wing, Main Floor

The Parliamentary Library was an important feature of Provisional Parliament House between 1927 and 1988 as it was a valuable source of information for parliamentarians and their staff. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Library shared its space and resources with the Victorian Parliamentary Library in Melbourne until its move to Canberra in 1926-1927. It was a significant undertaking - it took 12 months to transfer the 100,000 volumes to Canberra by train. Initially the collection also contained what was to become the National Library of Australia - this collection was formally separated from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library when the National Library Act was passed in 1960.

The Library was designed and furnished to suit the needs of a parliament in which parliamentarians had relatively little access to research staff, and relied on the Library as a research tool and place of work. John Smith Murdoch, the principal architect of the Architects Department of the Federal Capital Commission, did not adopt an overtly nationalistic style for the interior embellishment and furnishing of Provisional Parliament House. The simple lines and minimal embellishments of his Inter War Stripped Classical style are evident throughout the Parliamentary Library. Just as the Chambers and rooms associated with them were colour coded green (for the House of Representatives) and red (for the Senate) the colour designated to the Library was blue. This was reflected in its carpet and furnishings, such as the blue leather easy chairs and settees. The first room in the Library on approach from King’s Hall was dedicated to newspapers and periodicals. Newspaper slopes lined the walls and two octagonal tables with radiators in the hollow middle were placed on either side of the room. This led on to the main reading room which was divided down the middle by a line of partitioned offices, a library loans counter and central swinging doors. The reading room consisted of numerous small alcoves of bookcases that lined the walls. A desk and two chairs were located in each alcove and easy chairs and settees were placed around the room. There were two book lifts that were used to transport books from the stacks below.

The increasing numbers of parliamentarians, and the difficulties that were faced due to this, is reflected in the phases of redevelopment that occurred in the Parliamentary Library. In 1938 two two-storey wings were added to the back of the Library to allow an office for the head Librarian, who had been obliged to give up his office elsewhere, and to house the catalogue. In 1949 the number of parliamentarians increased from 110 to 183. This was the beginning of increasing pressure on the Library’s services and space that facilitated major changes. In 1958 another large reading room was added to the back of the Library. This was in response to a report that outlined the shortcomings of the Parliamentary Library. Problems included limits on available book accommodation, available seating for only 42 readers in the reading room, over-crowding of the newspaper room and a complete lack of space to work on large groups of materials, maps or microfilms. The departure of National Library staff and functions to its new building in 1968 eased the pressure somewhat, but the growth in significance and size of the Legislative Research Service brought new pressures. Many of its staff were housed on the floor below the Library, previously designated as stack. By 1988 the Parliamentary Library function was still significant, but the library space was too limited in size to be able to house the expanding functions with its former dignity and elegance.