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6 Sydney libraries I love to work in

by Rachel Smith
11 September 2019

This post was originally published in May 2017 and updated in Sept 2019.

As a kid, a much-loved weekly event involved trooping off to Mona Vale Library with my mum and my siblings to borrow a stack of books for the week. And as an adult, discovering just how many great Sydney libraries  there are has become something of a passion. 

I could bang on all day about why I love a good library, but in short, the change of scenery from my home office is top of the list. It’s also easy to recharge my gadgets and I don’t feel guilty about taking up a table (unlike at a cafe). There’s free WIFI if I need it. I don’t have to talk to anyone, but I am surrounded by people, which is its own kind of companionship. And I get a LOT done in such beautiful, inspiring and nostalgic surroundings.

My criteria for a good library? Lots of natural light. Access to a decent cafe. Cheap or free parking that’s not too far away – or a handily located train station. And well-thought out desk placement with power sockets. It doesn’t take much to make me happy. (Friendly librarians are just a bonus.)

Here are some of my favourite Sydney libraries to work in.

sydney libraries

Marrickville Library, Marrickville

Brand spanking new and stunningly beautiful, the new Marrickville Library (built on the site of a former hospital) is set to become an absolute hub for inner-west freelancers seeking a new ‘l’office’. Warm, welcoming and full of natural light, the library has cosy nooks around every corner. There’s a landscaped garden and sunny balconies where you can take a cuppa and soak up some rays between filing stories. The timber interior offers three levels and a multitude of spots to sit and work, whether you choose a bench and stool overlooking the library’s light-filled main lobby, grab a chair at a large communal desk or plonk down on the padded ‘steps’ (which even pump out heat). There’s a great cafe too with floor to ceiling windows, conveniently located inside the library itself. Definitely worth a visit!

Stanmore Library, Stanmore

As libraries go, teeny-tiny Stanmore is very unassuming on the outside – it looks like a big black shipping container plonked in the middle of a park. Inside, however, the walls are lined with books and magazines and there are comfy armchairs and couches. I love the long work desk by the floor-to-ceiling window, even if it does get a bit bright on sunny days. Because it’s so small, you’re not always guaranteed a seat and it can also be noisy with school kids and sometimes even barking dogs that pop in. But the librarians are very chilled about all of the above and it feels like a warm, friendly home office away from home (for me anyway).

sydney libraries

Fisher Library, Sydney University

I only really got to know Sydney Uni when I moved nearby and used to cut through the grounds on occasion. Then one day a friend suggested we work in the library for the day. It was love at first sight. So much space. Lovely views of the city or of Sydney University’s Grand Hall. On hot days, Victoria Park pool is 2 minutes walk from the library. The cafes on campus are ok but for more choice Broadway and Glebe Point Road aren’t far. Downsides: parking in the uni is expensive and you don’t EVER want to nap in the library’s cosy-looking sleep pods. Very very stinky.

sydney libraries

Stanton Library, North Sydney

It looks like a big glass box flanked by trees and cafes on approach, and inside, this gorgeous library on the hill above North Sydney is a bright, spacious place to unpack your gear and get into the zone for a day. There are lots of areas to sit and decent cafes and restaurants nearby. There are even a couple of parks where you can get some Vitamin D at lunchtime. Parking is 2 hour for the most part.

sydney libraries

Surry Hills Library, Surry Hills

Naturally, this library was only built AFTER I lived in Surry Hills – dammit! It’s just the best library ever. The long communal desk at the front window offers a heap of power sockets, good light and some fantastic people watching for when you need to take a break from the screen. Or, you can grab one of their funky curved swivel desk/seat things – or find a cosy spot downstairs among the books. Bliss. Only con is the parking. I would take the train to Central and walk up Devonshire or Foveaux Sts instead of bothering with that bollocks.

sydney libraries

The State Library of NSW, Sydney

It’s easy to get to (Martin Place or St James train stations are closest) and is full of areas to work in – whether you choose the Govenor Marie Bashir Reading Room, The Verandah or the enormous Mitchell Library Reading Room with its stunning stained glass windows, and walls of books. Perks include free WIFI, a tempting bookshop and regular art. Last time I was there the exhibition was May Gibbs and Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, which was a gorgeous trip down memory lane… all the way back to Mona Vale Library and my childhood reading choices!

Love Sydney’s libraries as much as I do? Share your favourite!

Rachel Smith
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Rachel Smith

As a kid, Rachel used to carry around a little suitcase of pens and paper so she could stop and write stories whenever inspiration struck. These days, she writes for a living, in between running the show at Rachel's List. Some of you may actually believe she looks like a megaphone in real life, but it's not the case. Honest.
Rachel Smith
Find us!

14 responses on "6 Sydney libraries I love to work in"

  1. NigelB says:

    I love this! At the moment I work full-time hours in Goulburn Street in Sydney, but at lunchtimes I often go around the corner to Haymarket Library, a tiny three-storey Victorian building. I take my laptop and get 45 minutes writing done on my next book. It, too, is freezing cold, but I can handle it for that short period of time!

    The other week I was meeting friends after work in Surry Hills, so I squeezed myself between two people at that long bench in the front window and did an hour’s writing before our catch-up.

    I’m likely to be working from home again soon, so Surry Hills will be my first option for escaping the confines of the house because it’s within walking distance.

    One issue is bathroom breaks: leaving enough things at the desk to keep my space, while making sure I have my bag, valuables and laptop with me while I leave it for a few minutes is a bit of a juggle. But it has to be done…

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      THAT is the annoying thing Nigel. Last week I was sitting next to another journo (I think), and I just asked her to mind my stuff while I nicked off to the loo – but the packing up of everything is a pain in the bum.

      I haven’t been to Haymarket Library – must try it. I have tried Ultimo Library near the pool in Pyrmont and it was pretty cute, but I was next to a guy who didn’t know tissues were invented and basically sniffed so loud for two hours that I got a negative association to the place and never went back 🙂

  2. ROBYN SHORT says:

    Love visiting Waverley Library, hub of the east; super well stocked with newspapers, including some foreign language, lots of leading masthead magazines and periodicals; all the week opening hours; great when time permits for referencing just about anything. Private rooms for those who want a book-ahead meeting, and interesting literary, tech and celebrity talks, courses, not to mention kids’ section used widely by local mums. Meet neighbours there too. I could go on!

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Ooh that sounds great Robyn, must pop it on my list!

  3. JB says:

    Rachel, I love this post and I am more than happy to be your Library Buddy on this continuing exploration. I am currently in New York and have found I get more done at a library on 100th Street than in my hotel room. It might be something about being surrounded by all those inspiring books or maybe around other people getting their own work done, but I am far more productive in a library. I did the same in the Melbourne State Library last month – one of the most beautiful reading rooms I’ve ever seen.
    Just for the record, Stanton Library in North Sydney remains my favourite place in Sydney – and my favourite team of librarians. Such great places to work around the courtyard and that team are just brilliant in helping out with any info needed.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Swanning about at libraries in NEW YORK! You lucky bugger! Say hi to the Big Apple for me 🙂

  4. Kerrie says:

    I’m in northern NSW and some of the libraries here are just too small (Brunswick Heads), or you have to get there at 9.30am to score a seat in a squashed-up line of people (Mullumbimby). Byron Bay has a light and spacious library with several quiet rooms; they even let me use a meeting room to call Telstra on Skype last year when I had no service at home. Library access is a lifesaver when services disappear – not a rare occurrence and quite a shock after a couple of decades in London with superfast broadband.

    I still find that I can concentrate better at home, even though I always worked freelance subbing shifts in offices when I was in London. I’ve thought about using a co-working space but suspect I would find it equally distracting (and an extra expense).

    Thanks for the post. I’m going to keep a note of it for when I am next in Sydney.

    Kerrie

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Great to hear about the different libraries up your way, Kerrie. Mullumbimby’s sounds a bit like Stanmore – I’m always worried I won’t get a seat there! Byron’s sounds pretty good though.

      I used to only ever be able to concentrate at home, but due to necessity (ie, getting out of the toddler’s way :)) I had to adapt.

      Glad you liked the post and it’s given you some options for next time you’re down this way.

  5. Mariella says:

    Don’t forget about Customs House Library at Circular Quay. It’s got a beautiful study room, closed off with big doors from the rest of the library, with huge windows looking out over the opera house. It’s hushed and padded, with reading lamps, like libraries of old. http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/explore/libraries/branches/customs-house-library

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      You’re the second person to tell me about this library, Mariella! I didn’t know about it. Am definitely going to pop it on my list. Thanks.

  6. Claire Harrison says:

    Oh I love this post that I stumbled upon after googling “best libraries in Sydney to write in”. I also love Katoomba library – it makes for a great day trip if you want a mental break from the city and there are some great views from the tables at the window facing the mountains. I make a day of it when I get the chance (which admittedly, isn’t that often). Thanks for the post!

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Ooh I’ve never been to that library – will check it out next time I’m in the mountains. Thanks for the tip, Claire!

  7. nina says:

    Hi Rachel,

    Do you need to subscribe to The State Library of NSW, CBD to be able to use the work space?

    Where can I get this information,
    Thank you so much,
    Nina

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Hi Nina, nope you can just walk in and find a space – I work sometimes in the Mitchell Library reading room (amazing, huge) but there are heaps of other study areas. And you can book smaller study spaces for free if you have a library card. More here: http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/plan-your-visit

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