For New Visitors

Welcome to the State Library of Western Australia’s website.  If you are new to the Library please take a few minutes to have a look at this page.  It will tell you who we are, a few other facts about us and where we are located if you wish to visit us.  And we hope you will want to!

Who we are

History of the State Library of Western Australia (SLWA).

Early history

The library was established to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria's reign.  The original foundation stone for the Victoria Public Library (as it was then named) was laid in 1887 in St George's Terrace at the old Government Boys School (now the headquarters of the National Trust).  The Library was located in temporary accommodation in the old Western Australian Bank Building across the road and  which opened its doors to the public for the first time on 26th January, 1889 with a total of 1,796 volumes on its shelves. It remained in that location until 1897 when it moved to the Jubilee building on the corner of Beaufort and James Streets.  This building housed the Library, Museum and Art Gallery. 

In 1903 the old stack building (since demolished) was built facing Francis Street. Hackett Hall, which is still standing next to the Alexander Library Building and has been renovated by the W.A. Museum, was completed in 1913.  By 1904 the Victoria Public Library had been renamed the Public Library of Western Australia and remained so until 1955 when the newly formed Library Board of W.A. was given control of the old Public Library and the institution was renamed the State Library of Western Australia.

James Sykes Battye

James Sykes Battye (1871-1954) was the first chief librarian of the Victoria Public Library and he remained in office for sixty years until his death in 1954. Born and educated in Victoria, he came to Western Australia in 1894 to take up the post at the library. Dr Battye made Western Australian History his area of study and, aware of the importance of preserving published and archival records, he began collecting local material for the library early in the century. The Archives Branch was established in 1945 and was given charge of all material relating to Western Australia.  Under his direction, the library built up a large and varied bookstock.  James Sykes Battye was a leading historian, librarian and public figure of Perth. 

After Dr Battye's death, responsibility for the Public Library was given to the Library Board of Western Australia (established 1951).  At this time the Archives Branch was re-named to commemorate Dr. Battye's achievements and in 1956 the renovated State Library re-opened with the J.S. Battye Library of West Australian History as one of its branches. 

The State Records Office

The nucleus of the State Records Office (SRO) collection is the Colonial Secretary's Office records which were acquired in 1903 by Dr J.S. Battye. Other records were later collected by Dr Battye during the course of writing his various publications.
Concern about the destruction of valuable records prompted the formation of the Public Records Committee (chaired by Dr Battye) in 1923.  This committee was revived as the State Archives Board in 1929 and survived until 1943.  In March 1945, Mollie Lukis was appointed as the first Archivist and the Archives Branch operated as such until the establishment of the J.S. Battye Library in 1956.  From that time until 1988 the State Archives was administratively part of the Battye Library. With the growth in interest of the role of government archives and accountability, in May 1988 the State Archives was established as a separate Directorate of The Library and Information Service of Western Australia. 

In 1990 the State Archives established a Records Management Branch, (now called Recordkeeping Services), to enable it to engage more actively in public records management matters at both state and local government level.  Following the Commission on Government's report the State Archives was renamed the Public Records Office in 1995 to better reflect its ongoing commitment to providing recordkeeping and archival services to government agencies and the public.  Responsibility for private archives was transferred to the Battye Library.
With the introduction of the State Records Bill into Parliament in late 1998 there was another name change in April 1999 to the State Records Office and a move to better premises on the ground floor of the Alexander Library Building.

Alexander Library Building

At the end of 1984, the Library Board's branches and collections which were scattered over three main buildings and three annexes, were brought together in the new Alexander Library Building which was officially opened on 18 June 1985. 

Planning for the new building began in earnest at the end of 1977 with the appointment of Perth Architects Cameron, Chisholm and Nicol who worked in association with the Building Management Authority and Consulting engineers Norman, Disney and Young Pty Ltd.  Construction of the main library frame commenced in January 1982, with practical completion of the building reached early in 1985.
With a gross floor area of 30,784 square metres, the building has six floors for staff and public use, plus an engineering maintenance floor.  The basic design concept places the three major elements - public service areas, book stacks and staff work areas - in vertical rather than horizontal relationships, with some architectural relief provided in the public areas by the incorporation of voids: these voids are spanned by bridges to allow access to the various sections.  Glass-fronted public lifts provide changing panoramas up and down the voids. 

The capital cost of the building (excluding the carpark) was $37.6 million, which includes $6.2 million for loose furniture and equipment. 

Professor Emeritus Fred Alexander, CBE

The building celebrates the contribution of Professor Emeritus Fred Alexander, CBE, Fellow of the Library Board of Western Australia.  Professor Alexander was Chairman of the Board from 1952 - 1982 and he masterminded the strategies the library service adopted in gaining acceptance of the provision of the 1951 Library Board Act by local authorities throughout the state.  Professor Alexander was a policy-maker of wisdom and integrity, who showed his respect for the library profession by leaving professional judgements to the librarians, while he concerned himself with policy direction.

Some statistics

The State Library of WA has approximately:

  • Volumes of books: 505,000
  • Newspaper and serial titles: 21,000
  • Music Scores: 43,000
  • Music sound recordings: 15,000
  • Cartographic and maps: 53,000

In addition to the above sample numbers the library has large collections of microfilms, microfiche, photographs, film and videos, oral history material and a significant westraliana collection.  Please visit us to discover the other treasures we hold with the help of our very friendly and knowledgeable staff.


The Alexander Library Building which houses the State Library of Western Australia is physically located in the Perth Cultural Centre.

Share this page   share on Facebook share on Twitter share on stumbleupon

Page last updated: Monday 8 February 2010

printer friendly