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SA 5005

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The original Barr Smith Library

The Barr Smith Library owes its name to the Barr Smith family, a pioneer family in South Australia and benefactors to the University of Adelaide over many decades. In 1899 the University Council resolved that its library should bear the name 'The Barr Smith Library', and the foundation stone of the present Barr Smith Library was laid by Mary Isobel Barr Smith on 29 September 1930.

The Reverend Dr Robert Smith of Lochwinnoch, Renfrewshire, Scotland, married Marjorie Barr of Lochside, Scotland, in 1820. Their first son, Robert Barr Smith, graduated from Glasgow University in 1842 at the age of 18, and embarked on a business career as a commission and supply merchant to the colonies of Australia. In 1854 he moved to Melbourne, and two years later to Adelaide, just twenty years after the proclamation of the Colony of South Australia. In that same year, 1856, Robert married Joanna Lang Elder, sister of his business partner, Thomas Elder. Through the family company Elder Smith & Co, Robert's interests quickly grew and diversified to include farming, pastoralism, trading, and copper mining. The Company opened large areas of outback South Australia, and had property interests in South Australia, Queensland, Victoria, and New South Wales. By 1890 the partners owned an area greater than Robert's country of origin, Scotland.

Although the Barr Smiths and the Elders accumulated great wealth, they were also noted philanthropists, closely interested in the social and cultural development of the Colony. The University of Adelaide was founded in 1874, and Robert Barr Smith served as a member of its Council for 19 years, and during his lifetime his donations to the University exceeded £20,000, including £9,000 for the improvement of the Library. Other gifts were towards the building of the spires on St Peter's Cathedral, the establishment of a diocese at Willochra, the Trades Hall in Adelaide, the Mt Kosciuso observatory, and the Art Gallery of South Australia. Following the death of Robert Barr Smith in 1915, his family gave a permanent endowment to the University of Adelaide Library, and in 1927 Robert's one surviving son, Tom Elder Barr Smith, offered £20,000 for the construction of a separate library building to be dedicated in the name of his father. Eventually more than £30,000 was given for the building, which was officially opened on 4 March 1932.

The Library is the architectural work of Walter Hervey Bagot, a prominent architect whose portfolio includes St Peter's and St Francis Xavier's Cathedrals, Bonython Hall, and the State War Memorial. Construction is in red brick with stone dressings, and the freestone portico leading directly into the massive and opulent Reading Room. Two friezes commemorate the donations of the Barr Smith family. Notwithstanding its grandeur, at the time of its opening a local newspaper lamented the Library's position: "far from the madding crowd, ... for its beautiful architecture, of which there is little superior in Adelaide, will not be readily seen by the general public or interstate or overseas visitors. It would have made a fine addition to the several classically designed buildings on the North Terrace boulevard". In fact, the view to the Barr Smith Library from Frome Road is one of Adelaide's finest vistas, a view enhanced by the removal of a central bookcase and the installation of glass doors in 2001.

Later additions to the Library building were made in all decades from the 1950s, the large southern wing completed in the early 1970s and the bridge entrance in 1984. In 2010-11, part of the Library building was incorporated into Hub Central, a 3-level dynamic learning space delivering state-of-the-art facilities for students.