The Library foyer is where the full range of visitors to the Library can be observed. Over a short period of time, researchers, students, visitors to the café and bookshop, donors, events patrons, tourists and staff all pass through the foyer on their way to undertake their work. On occasion, a familiar face has come through the library doors  some notable visitors have included actor Sam Neill, singer Leo Sayer and local Canberra artist and author Trevor Dickinson.

Whether our visitors are known or not, they may stop to ask the friendly staff at the Foyer Information Desk for directions, assistance in using the Library or even just for information about their surrounds.

Although staff at the Foyer Information Desk don’t answer reference questions  those enquiries are referred on to our knowledgeable staff in the Main Reading Room  they do assist with providing ready answers to commonly asked questions where possible. Often these questions can be surprising. Read on to discover some of the most common and quirky questions that our Foyer Information Desk staff have answered.

National Library building in the morning
The front of the National Library building in the morning light. Image: National Library of Australia

Can you tell me about the marble?

From the moment you first see the iconic Library building, whether it be from the Commonwealth Avenue bridge or on approach from the lakeside, the building architecture speaks volumes. Yes, that pun was intended. 

It is no surprise then that some of the most regular questions staff are asked are about the story behind the design and build of the Library, including its artworks, construction and building materials. Luckily, much of this information  including the origins of the various timbers and stone used – was published in a now-digitised brochure simply titled National Library of Australia.

One of our staff members, Helen, says:

"One of my favourite questions is about the significance of the marble stone at the base of one of the foyer pillars. Luckily one of our knowledgeable Friends wrote about this stone (which came from a now destroyed ancient library in Athens). You can find her blog about the National Library's stones and their history preserved in the Australian Web Archive on Trove."

What’s on at the Library?

The National Library building is also a great venue for commemorative and special occasions. High-profile events like the annual Prime Minister's Literary Awards are regularly held in the foyer, as well as meet the author events, book signing events, or exhibition activations. For information on upcoming events you can visit our what's on page.

Kelly shares:

"Being on the Foyer Information Desk means staff can see the set-ups for events that happen in the Foyer, and are able to tell curious patrons about what they're setting up to build up anticipation." 

Sue adds:

"Bridal parties have been known to stop in to freshen up in the bathroom before having their photos taken on site. There's also been the odd fashion model photo shoot."

The Library has a range of venues available for event hire ranging in size and purpose. Head to our venue hire page to find out more.

Can I see the Cook journal?

Visitors to the Library from interstate will often ask about the famous Cook journal, held in the Library's collections. This question is asked often enough for an FAQ on the topic to be added on the Library’s website.  

The Journal of H.M.S Endeavour, 1768-1771 covers the three-year voyage of the sailing ship Endeavour, captained by James Cook, when it circumnavigated the globe in the name of scientific advancement. It is one of the great treasures of the National Library of Australia.

While visitors aren’t able to handle the original journal due to preservation reasons, other options include:

  • viewing the facsimile copy of the journal in the Library’s Special Collections Reading Room open access reference collection;
  • reading the transcript of the journal on the South Seas website;
  • and viewing the digitised copy of the original online.

The opening lines of the first entry displayed in the online journal details Cook’s observations of saloop, a hot beverage which brings me to the next frequently asked question.

Can I take this into the Library?

Also located at the Foyer Information Desk are our friendly security staff. They perform an important function for the Library, protecting its collections, visitors and staff. Although they may be seen away from the desk on one of their regular walks through our reading rooms and public spaces, when they are at the desk they can provide visitor assistance.

Although there’s no longer the cloakroom that some patrons remember from days gone by, our security guards can still lend a helping hand by holding umbrellas behind the desk. They also provide directions to the free lockers for bulky items which exceed the size limit, assist with lost property enquiries and give advice on what can be brought into the gallery spaces and reading rooms (one of our readers was most surprised when she was told that she couldn’t bring her grocery shopping in with her),

On on one memorable occasion the security staff were pleased to store a longboard for a young adult.  You can also always ask the guard to call for a taxi or to point out the nearest bus stops.

Aside from assisting with first aid and other emergencies, our security staff have more recently been assisting patrons without smart phones to complete their Check In CBR registration and advising on the location of hand sanitiser. 

Foyer Information Desk
Our friendly staff at the Foyer Information Desk waiting to assist with enquiries. Image: National Library of Australia

Hello, can you put my call through?

Our staff at the Foyer Information Desk don't just assist on site visitors, they also answer the Library telephone switchboard and cheerfully guide and connect enquirers to the information they need. 

We often receive calls destined for the Department of Home Affairs, due to an identical phone number bar one digit. A quick clarification over the phone to the caller is usually all that is needed.

Can you take my photo?

The Foyer Information Desk is a popular place for a photo, especially for authors and publishers who are dropping off their book to satisfy legal deposit requirements. Many enthusiastic authors, keen to mark this important milestone in their lives, ask our staff to assist them in capturing the moment.

It is, however, uncommon for a larger-than-life rabbit to approach the desk to ask if he could drop off a book for legal deposit! The rabbit turned out to be the husband of a children's book author, and had decided to dress up for the occasion.

What type of bird is that?

While we have our regulars who stop by for a quick chat, one such regular you may not expect to see in the Library foyer is Frankie. Frankie the Mud Lark (also known as a pee wee) enjoys visiting the Library, keeping staff and visitors entertained. She can regularly be seen standing close to the automatic entry and exit doors, waiting for people to activate them so she can come and go as she pleases. 

Does it cost anything to use the Library? 

One of the most frequently asked questions from first-time-library users is "how much does it cost to get a library card or to use the Library's computers?" It is always nice to see the pleasantly surprised expressions as we inform them there is no cost to get one of our beautiful Library cards and that use of our computers is free.  

One of our visitors also asked whether they had to pay an entry fee. When advised "no, there isn’t a charge," the visitor suggested we should charge admission to raise funds.

The Main Reading Room of the Library. Image: National Library of Australia

What is the most unusual question our staff have been asked? 

Although staff have been asked many unusual questions, there is one that stands out for our staff member Konrad. It was when a visitor requested blank tax forms from the Library so she could do her tax. It took quite some time to convince her that we didn't provide them. 

Further information

As you can see, our staff at the Foyer Information Desk are experienced in directing and assisting visitors to the National Library of Australia. Whether you come with a definite purpose in mind, or inadvertently meandered through the Library's entry doors and stayed to enjoy the ambiance of the foyer, our staff can guide you on what the Library has to offer. 

Plan your visit ahead of time. More information on the Library's services, amenities and accessibility can be found on the visit us page.