85 years of the Barr Smith Library

It’s our Birthday! Saturday March 4th marks 85 years since the official opening of the Barr Smith Library. Designed by Architect Walter Hervey Bagot, and built with funds donated by Sir Thomas Elder Barr Smith, the Library was officially opened by the Governor, Sir Alexandar Hore-Ruthven, VC, in a widely attended public ceremony in 1932. The building was named the Barr Smith Library in memory of Thomas Elder Barr Smith’s father, Sir Robert Barr Smith. You can read the official opening ceremony book over on our Digital Archive

The original library was in two parts, the main area, which held the undergraduate collection and served as a reading room, and the basement level stack room which contained the periodicals and those items available only to professors, lecturers and advanced students. All up the library was designed to hold 15,000 volumes in the reading room and 100,000 volumes in the stack room. The room was ventilated naturally, with air vents located above the shelves, and heated by the means of foot rails in each table (which have since been removed) Designed to receive as much natural light as possible, no matter the time of day or season, thanks to the many windows. additionally 5 magnificent pendant lights hung from the nave vaulting, with 22 smaller pendants from the aisle ceilings. Mysteriously, all of the pendants have disappeared, with no records to indicate where to or why. If you happen to know where they went, please let us know! More information about the design and details of the library can be found in the opening ceremony booklet linked above.

Much of the original documentation and plans of the Barr Smith Library are held here in Rare Books & Special Collections as part of the Library Archives, including the beautifully hand-drawn and coloured plans, the original specifications book and this rather interesting map detailing the Dewey Decimal Classification breakdown of the books in the Reading Room. As you can see from the map, all of the books fit in the reading room, where now the collection has expanded so much that we can only fit half of the 900s in there! Even after our recent relegation project.

DDC Plan Full Light


A brief overview of the History of the Barr Smith Library can be found on the History of the Barr Smith Library webpage
You can find more historical photographs of the Library on our Flickr page

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