We like to say that a visit to Canberra is not complete without a visit to the National Library of Australia. Although we may be biased, it is true that each year many thousands of visitors from Australia and around the world come to peruse our bookshop, have a coffee in our café or visit our engaging exhibitions.

On your next visit we invite you to step across the foyer and past the Exhibition Galleries to view and experience the wonderful things on offer in our Main Reading Room and Special Collections Reading Room. It doesn't matter if you are a casual visitor or a new or experienced researcher - we have something for everyone.

Make an enquiry with our knowledgeable staff

Our friendly and knowledgeable staff are one of our greatest assets. Our staff are skilled in providing support in everything from complex collection and catalogue problems to advice on where to find children's books for the entertainment of young visitors. You can find them at our front desk in the Main Reading Room ready to assist you. 

If you need to wait for assistance, take a look at our wonderful replica Coronelli globes. You can read about them online in this blog. Please remember that while you can look, we ask that you do not touch the fragile surface.  

Request a National Library card

Two library cards stand up on a stone step, with part of the National Library building visible in the background
Request a National Library of Australia card, the key to our collections. Image: National Library of Australia

When you visit the Library, you must request the key to our collections, a National Library card. Register online for one now

If you don’t live in Canberra, a Library card will allow you to unlock the huge variety of online collections provided by the Library from your home, available via our eResources service. This includes the latest newspapers and magazines from Newsbank and PressReader, as well as a number of academic journal databases. All are available for free to Australian residents.

We are not a lending library, which means that our collections cannot leave our reading rooms. If you live in Canberra, the card will allow you to request material from our collections to read onsite. You can read all about using your Library card and the catalogue in our getting started section.

Getting started with the catalogue

In the past the Library held information about its collections on cards in vast wooden card catalogues. Now this information can be accessed online by anyone, anywhere using a phone, tablet or home computer. Explore the catalogue

Card catalogue at the National Library of Australia, 1968
Max Dupain, Card catalogue at National Library of Australia, 1968, nla.obj-144066439

If you are in our Main Reading Room you can access the catalogue on one of our publicly accessible computers (which also provide access to word processing facilities, email and the Internet).  

You may have come to the Library to search for an obscure family history, the newsletter of your local gardening society, or a microfilm copy of your local newspaper which is not yet digitised on Trove. Your visit to the Library’s latest exhibition may have piqued your interest in a particular topic or person.

The catalogue is where you will find these items as well as many more. Once you have found what you are looking for, you can use your new Library card to request material and have it delivered to one of our reading rooms for you to view. 

Visit the Main Reading Room

While you are waiting for your collection material to be delivered, take a walk around the Main Reading Room. Here you will see a variety of researchers at work and engaging with our collections and services; students, academics, family historians, local Canberrans and more.

You may be drawn to the windows to gaze out at the wonderful view of the lake, the heart of Canberra. If this sparks your interest, on your return to your home you can view our digitised collections relating to the history and development of our capital city, including this wonderful Perspective view of Canberra site by Marion Mahony Griffin. 

After admiring the view, look at the lovely artwork and architecture around you. A striking highlight includes Tapestries from the series Australian Landscapes I-IV by Alice Kettle. 

Alice Kettle Australian Landscapes
Alice Kettle, 1998, Tapestries from the series Australian Landscapes I-IV, nla.cat-vn5514391 

Don’t forget to look up and appreciate the wonderful ceiling which has not changed since it was captured in 1968 by Australian photographer Max Dupain.

Main Reading Room at the National Library of Australia
Max Dupain, Main reading room at the National Library of Australia, 1968, nla.cat-vn4318538 

New books and journals and the reference collection

Although the Library is a reference library, where material is stored in closed access storage areas, the Main Reading Room contains a display of our latest online journal titles, a selection of recent titles in our new books display, and a collection of children's books in a variety of languages for younger readers. 

You can also find a wonderful collection of language dictionaries and reference books. The reference collection contains many valuable reference titles which are not available online.

For example, if you love words, you can lose yourself in the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary (or the OED as it is familiarly known).

Oxford English Dictionary
Twenty wonderful volumes of The Oxford English Dictionary as found in our Reference Collection. Image: National Library of Australia

There is also a selection of Asian language reference titles available.

Head to the Newspaper and Family History Zone

If your purpose in visiting the Library has been to research your family history this where you may find yourself. 

As well as a wonderful collection of family history reference books, and online access to both Ancestry and FindmyPast, we have staff available to help you unravel any number of thorny problems, including how to use a microfilm reader and the difference between various types of microform. You can read about these in our wonderful staff blog what is a micro fish?  

If our staff are unable to help you (and some questions require more assistance than we are able to provide in our reading rooms) you can send us a query via our Ask a Librarian service.

Explore the Special Collections Reading Room

As you leave the Library, you will pass the stairs leading to the Special Collections Reading Room. This is a tranquil space where you may access the rare and unique published and unpublished collections of the Library. 

Much of this unique material is now being digitised and available to research from your home. As an example you may want to explore the online papers of Sir Robert Menzies.  

If you haven’t been there yet during your visit wander up and talk to the librarians on duty. You will find that they are very happy to tell you about the space, including about the various groups of Fellows and Scholars we host throughout the year and our special group of advanced researchers who use the facilities of our Petherick Reading Room.

The Special Collections Reading Room also contains some fascinating works of art

Exit via the Bookshop

We hope that you have enjoyed your visit to the National Library and that you will return to visit us onsite or online.

On your way out, explore the NLA Bookshop to discover new and unique publishing titles or pick up a keepsake of your trip to the Library. You might also pop into our on-site cafe, Bookplate, for a cup of coffee or a quick bite. Check our opening hours before you visit.

Remember, our Ask a Librarian service is available to support you with your research should you need it.