The Foundation of the Barr Smith Library

Barr Smith Portico2

Friday the Fourth of March marks the anniversary of the official opening of the Barr Smith Library. Previously the University of Adelaide Library had been housed in a small room on the second floor of the Mitchell Building, however in January 1927, Sir Thomas Elder Barr Smith donated over £33,000 to the University of Adelaide to build a library to serve as a memorial for his father, Robert Barr Smith. The Barr Smith family had long been generous benefactors of the University of Adelaide and its library, donating several thousand pounds over many years for the purchase of books.  As such it was seen as only fitting for the library to bear the name the Barr Smith Library.

On the 29th of September 1930, Mrs. Mary Isobel Barr Smith, wife of Thomas Elder Barr Smith, laid the Foundation Stone of the Barr Smith Library. The Chancellor at the time, Sir George Murray, presided at the ceremony during which Mary Isobel was presented with a ceremonial inscribed silver trowel. He was quoted as saying  “If anything could increase our gratitude towards Mr. Barr Smith, it was that he afforded us the opportunity of asking Mrs. Barr Smith to lay the foundation stone of the building made possible by his generosity. Mrs. Barr Smith is known to many thousands of soldiers who went to the war, and many of them had occasion to be thankful to her when they were in the trenches. Her task to-day will be less onerous. It gives me great pleasure to ask Mrs. Barr Smith to accept this trowel and do us the favor of laying the stone, on and near which will rest the library presented by her husband, and named in honor of his father and one she loved so well.” (1930 ‘BARR SMITH LIBRARY’, The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931), 30 September, p. 10,

The Library was officially opened in 1932, by the Governor of South Australia, Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven, V.C. The opening ceremony was well attended, by what was described as “a picturesque garbed gathering of guests, in which the academic dress of professors and others mingled with colored gowns of women and the more sombre attire of men.” (1932 ‘BARR SMITH LIBRARY’, News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), 4 March, p. 3, After the ceremony, the guests got the opportunity to inspect the building, followed by an afternoon tea, which later featured in the SA Homes & Gardens magazine. The Official Opening and Inspection of the Barr Smith Library booklet, which was given to guests during the ceremony is available online as part of our digital archive.

In 2014, the trowel presented to Mary Barr Smith was donated to Rare Books and Special Collections by the Barr Smith Family, who have remained generous donors and supporters of the Barr Smith Library to this day. The trowel is now on semi-permanent display in the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room, which is available during our opening hours of 1-4pm Monday – Friday. We also hold the beautifully illustrated original architectural plans of the Barr Smith Library, which make up part of our collection of Barr Smith Library archival material.

To learn more about the history of the Barr Smith Library you can check out the Stories from Archives & Special Collections webpage, or visit our permanent exhibition located on Level 2 of the Barr Smith Library in the Foyer of the original Reading Room.

Part of this post originally featured on our Facebook page for the anniversary of the laying of the Foundation Stone, 29th September 2015. It has been expanded upon here to help celebrate the Library’s 84th anniversary.

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