The Barr Smith Reading Room
The major significant feature of this building is the Barr Smith Reading Room with its gilded ceiling and its Latin inscribed frieze.
In January 1927 Tom Elder Barr Smith generously offered £20,000 to finance the construction of a separate building to accommodate the Library named after his father. Later the gift was increased to £30,000 to erect a building which would comfortably and splendidly accommodate the Library, and allow for future growth; a condition was that it should be completed within five years.
A great deal of thought went into the planning of the building, and the architect, Walter H. Bagot, took advice from authorities overseas as well as in the eastern Australian cities. The building combined a reading-room containing books thought to be sufficient for the needs of most readers, with a closed-access stack to conserve space. The new building could hold a total of 150,000 volumes, with accommodation for two hundred readers and 15,000 books in the reading-room. There was also a comfortable common-room for professors.
In 1932 it was envisaged that the new building with its proposed stack extension (eventually begun in 1958 to a new design) would house half a million volumes, and in the words of Professor J. R. Wilton in his vote of thanks to Tom Elder Barr Smith, it "should be ample for one hundred years to come".
The building's classic Renaissance form was then thought to be highly adaptable, and also appropriate for Adelaide's mediterranean climate. It was received not only as a fine addition to the University, but also to Adelaide, and was described as palatial, beautiful, magnificent, imposing, ornate, splendid, and so on, although a contemporary newspaper article regretted that it was "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".
The Latin inscribed frieze
The inscriptions commemorate two major donations.
ROBERT BARR SMITH DONIS PER SE ET HEREDES INDE AB A.D. MDCCCXCII IMPERTITIS BIBLIOTHECAM PRIOREM LIBRIS EXPLEVERAT
[Robert Barr Smith filled the earlier library with books as gifts from himself and his heirs, A.D. 1892 onwards.]
This refers to gifts of money made from time to time by Mr. Robert Barr Smith and supplemented by his heirs. The money forms an endowment for the purchase of books for the Library.
TOM ELDER BARR SMITH HANC BIBLIOTHECAM AD PATRIS NOMEN ORNANDVM SVMPTV SVO AEDIFICANDUM CVRAVIT A.D. MCMXXX
[Tom Elder Barr Smith has this library built at his own expense in honour of his father's name, A.D. 1930.]
This refers to the gift of this building by the late T.E. Barr Smith.