The Society’s Library

RSNSW room, Dixson library, UNEThe Royal Society of NSW Library is an important part of Australia’s heritage.  It contains journals and monographs acquired, bequeathed or donated during the course of the scientific and intellectual development of the country and it reflects this in its contents.The Library is currently in the process of reappraisal with a view to strengthening its role as an historical record of scientific achievement, as well as a unique source of information for researchers.  It includes an extensive collection of international scientific journals and important monographs on loan to the University of New England and managed at its Dixson Library in Armidale.  This part of the collection is fully catalogued as an identified component of the UNE collection and available to researchers through the University’s online catalogue.  It is derived primarily from a now much reduced exchange program with international organizations which receive the Society’s Journal in exchange for their own.The remainder of the collection comprises significant 19th- and 20th-century material from both Australia and overseas which is currently receiving attention with a view to its reappraisal as part of the foundation of our scientific heritage and which will ultimately become available to researchers.


When the Philosophical Society of Australasia was founded in 1821, each member furnished the secretary with an alphabetical catalogue of the books in his (they were all male) private library, and these were available on loan to other members.  At that stage the Society had no journal, but some of the papers read were included in a book edited by Barron Field, one of its members, and published in London 1825.

In 1875, nine years after the Society first published its own journal, it began to exchange publications with other scientific organizations on a world-wide basis and a small library and reading-room was established at 5 Elizabeth Street, Sydney.  But the space available was inadequate, and it was only after the Society moved to Science House in Gloucester Street in 1931 that the books and periodicals could be arranged systematically on shelves in a large specially designed room.

By 1960, the library consisted of some 40,000 volumes and the exchange list contained about 400 names.  In 1980, the library had grown further still and the exchange list comprised more than 600 names.  During this period it withstood its wholesale move from Science House to a dedicated space in the new Science Centre at 35 Clarence Street.  The collection included a number of rare volumes and some of the periodicals were unobtainable in any other Australian library.  By 1983 it was no longer possible to house the collection in Sydney and the bulk of it, including all the exchange journals, was loaned to the Dixson Library at the University of New England as one of its Special Collections, with monographs housed in a dedicated “Royal Society room”.


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