On Site, On Tour and Online: the State Library of NSW and You

Pauline Fitzgerald welcomes you to the fascinating collection at the State Library of NSW…

No history of Australia, no local or family history, no national debate about Indigenous reconciliation or History Wars, no arguments about origins, attitudes, behaviours or politics can be written – or contested – without reference to archival and collecting institutions, and most require consultation with the Mitchell. Richard Neville, Mitchell Librarian

Supporting you

The State Library of NSW holds a unique collection in excess of 6 million items and valued at $3.15 billion. With 157,000 prints and drawings, 1.5 million photographs and negatives, 12 linear kilometres of manuscripts, 100,000 maps, not to mention 2.5 million books, how does the State Library of NSW support students and teachers?

In 2009 Learning Services was established. For K-12 students and teachers, the key objective has been connecting students and teachers with the extraordinary collections of the State Library – the home of Australia’s history. In the seven years since, a rich and diverse program has been developed to enhance learning opportunities for students and teachers around NSW. Programs are offered on site, online and on tour.

To date 57.51% of schools across NSW have connected with our services.

On site

On site in Macquarie Street, the State Library offers a range of excursions, all of which link to the NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum. Fundamental to the development of our programs is the importance of introducing students to original collection material as we are well aware of the unique and important role the State Library holds as custodians of the documentary heritage of the nation.

Nowhere else in Australia will students have the opportunity to see, first hand, items such as First Fleet journals, Matthew Flinders maps, Henry Lawson’s death mask or Shakespeare’s first folio, to name but a few of our collection highlights.

The power of seeing ‘the real thing’ cannot be overstated.

Examples of our on-site programs include:

  • British Colonisation, one of our most popular programs, explores the arrival of the First Fleet, early days in the colony and the strength and resilience of Australia’s first peoples. Bringing the 1817-1818 Edward Close image Costumes of the Australasians to life through role play and interaction with original collection items such as James Cook artefacts, Aboriginal language lists, and convict material creates a rich and memorable learning experience for students.

  • Similarly, Walking into Australia is an immersive workshop providing students with the opportunity to step into the shoes of inland explorers Edward Eyre, Burke and Wills, Kennedy and Jackey Jackey, and Ludwig Leichhardt as they venture into the unknown. The survival zone truly transports the students as they struggle against strong head winds (industrial fans) in oversized gumboots lugging a heavy backpack to recreate a little of the physical hardship faced by early explorers.

  • Seeking Shakespeare  is a particularly popular program and the Library was particularly active in 2016 as we commemorated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The Library collections include the first, second, third and fourth folios and the Library is the only institution in Australia to hold all four folios. The digitisation of the first folio  has made it accessible to classrooms across Australia. A visit to the exquisite Shakespeare room is a huge highlight of this program and it is now possible to take a peek inside this special room via a virtual tour.

Support for the HSC

Support for HSC students is core business for the State Library and tickets for our HSC student seminars are highly sought after and quick to sell out.

Co-hosted with Sydney Living Museums, History Extension: The Project gives students the opportunity to develop their research skills and gain valuable advice, resources and inspiration before they embark on their major work.

For English Extension 2, wordeXpress offers a similar program with subject experts and successful ex-students providing guidance in how to get started and maintain focus to achieve a first class major work. The wordeXpress initiative was developed with the NSW Education Standards Authority (formerly BOSTES) and in addition to student seminars we also host the awards ceremony for students featured in the wordeXpress Young Writers Showcase.

On tour

We are particularly pleased to offer wordeXpress student seminars in regional areas and last year we travelled to Tamworth and Coffs Harbour to afford students in regional NSW the same opportunities students in the Sydney region enjoy. The State Library Foundation provides financial support to make this possible and this forms part of our commitment to serve the people of NSW and improve equity of access no matter where in the state you live. Other services targeting HSC students include Introduction to HSC Resources, which is a workshop available both on site and via video conference.


In addition to on-site and regional learning programs a major focus for Learning Services is the development of online learning resources. The State Library launched a new website in February 2016 and Learning is now accessible from the homepage. This increased visibility has resulted in a 250% increase in visits to the site and we have received very positive feedback on the resources we provide.

If you cannot come to us we can always come to you – with a virtual excursion. Our virtual excursions all feature original collection materials and are offered free of charge through DART connections.

Current topics include:

Captain James Cook – watercolour on ivory miniature in circular frame, ca. 1780-1784, a128550

New programs under development are:

  • Mary Reibey – The woman on the $20 note
  • On the Move – Migration to Australia
  • Shakespeare’s Folios

Learning activities currently available address syllabus outcomes for the NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum – History, Geography and English. Learning Activities for Visual Arts are also available.

Our most popular online resources are:

Migration to Australia in the 1800’s

HSC Area of Study: Discovery

The Gold Rush

In addition to learning activities tailor-made for classroom use, other important areas of the website for teachers and students include:


Here you will find curated collections showcasing people, places and ideas inspired by the collections. You can travel with the Dutch, the Portuguese or James Cook in Voyages of Discovery: the Great South Land  or visit the goldfields of Hill End in the Holtermann Collection or delve deep into the stories and lives of Indigenous Sydney before European settlement in Eora . More than 80 stories are currently available and being added to constantly.

DX Lab

We are very proud to be the home of Australia’s first and only cultural-heritage innovation lab that supports new ways of design thinking, experimentation and deep research in the digital humanities. Our DX Lab is where experimentation and research happens and we use the latest technologies to find rich and interesting ways to explore our collections and data sets.

Professional learning and partnerships

We are grateful for the positive working relationship we have, including:

  • History Teachers Association
  • Society and Culture Teachers Association
  • English Teachers Association
  • School Library Association NSW
  • NESA, DOE and AIS

These partnerships ensure we are developing resources which meet the needs of students and teachers and lead the way in providing up to date resources which address changes to curriculum.

Professional learning for teachers is another important aspect of State Library services and as an endorsed provider we offer an annual conference and Reach Out! a FREE interactive workshop offered in schools around NSW. Please contact us to find out how you can have a State Library educator run a workshop for teachers in your area.

If you would like further details on any of our programs and resources please contact the Learning Services team learning.library@sl.nsw.gov.au  or 9273 1778