The J.S. Battye Library of West Australian History began on 14 December 1956 (as the J.S. Battye Library of West Australian History and State Archives), after a reorganisation of the State Library into subject areas by State Librarian, Francis Aubie (Ali) Sharr. It was named after James Sykes Battye, 1871-1954, who came from Ballarat Victoria, in 1894, to be the chief librarian of the Victoria Public Library (the State Library of Western Australia was first known as the Victoria Public Library as it was originally founded to honour the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria's ascension to the British throne). It was renamed the Public Library of Western Australia in 1904 to avoid confusion with the Public Library of Victoria. Dr Battye died in 1954, having served in office for nearly 60 years.
Dr Battye was an historian who wrote and compiled several books on the history of Western Australia. He was an avid collector of Western Australian historical material, including early Western Australian newspapers, Colonial Secretary's Office correspondence and various manuscripts. He ensured that both archival and printed materials were acquired and preserved, and was responsible for the formation of an Archives Branch of the Public Library in 1945 (Mollie Lukis was the first head of the Archives Branch and became the first Battye Librarian in 1956).
The Battye Library originally included State Archives, but following the passing of the State Records Act in 2000, the State Records Office officially became a separate entity responsible to its own minister (although a functional review had administratively separated them in 1988 and they had maintained separate reading rooms since 1999).
The word 'West' instead of 'Western' in the title indicates that the collecting focus includes pre-Colonial material such as European accounts and impressions of the coast, as well as material relating to the Swan River Colony prior to the foundation of the State of Western Australia.
Western Australian documentary heritage material is the responsibility of the Battye Library. Its official Collection development policy guides the acquisition of Western Australian materials. It is intended to provide information for the public concerning the State Library's current collecting activities and intentions, encourage cooperation and the development of partnerships with other libraries and collecting agencies responsible for similar heritage materials, and assist staff of the Battye Library in their task of selecting, acquiring and managing materials.
This broad coverage makes the State Library the primary source for any information relating to Western Australia, whether historical or current. The various types of material can assist the user to satisfy any request for Western Australian information.
The main categories of Western Australian publications collected by the Battye Library are books, newspapers and serials. In general, only material published in Western Australia is collected, although books published outside the State are purchased if written by a Western Australian person or contain substantial information relating to Western Australia. Other material collected include maps, ephemera, private archives, photographs, music scores and recordings, oral history and films, videos and DVDs.
The State Records Office is responsible for the acquisition, preservation and provision of access to archival records created by Colonial and State Governments, as well as local authorities, in Western Australia.