8 Lovely Libraries in Australia and New Zealand

We’ve covered Europe's, Asia's, Africa's, North America's and South America’s most beautiful libraries; now it’s time to take a look at Australia and, while it isn’t technically a part of the continent, New Zealand as well.

Victorian State Library, Australia

This library is not only massive – containing over 2 million books – it also has some fantastic rarities, including the diaries of the city’s founders, folios of Captain James Cook, and the armor of famed outlaw Ned Kelly. The library also houses a chess room containing materials on the history and study of chess and a number of game tables allowing students of the game to practice as they learn.

The building was first opened in 1856 with a collection of 3,800 books, and the famous domed reading room was opened in 1913. While the dome’s skylights were covered with copper sheets in 1959 due to water leakage, they have since been renovated, allowing beautiful natural light to once again fill the reading room.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia users Bjenks and Diliff

The State Library of New South Wales, Australia

The oldest library in all of Australia, the State Library started as the Australian Subscription Library in 1826. In 1869, it was purchased by the government and became the Sydney Free Public Library. The name was changed to the Public Library of New South Wales in 1895, and in 1975 it was given its current title.

The building was built in 1845, but the most famous, and most stunning, part of the library is the Mitchell Wing, which was completed in 1910. The wing was named for David Scott Mitchell who had a fantastic collection of older books, including original journals of James Cook. The pictures included here are all from the Mitchell Wing.

Another wing was added twenty years later to add gallery space for a large collection of historical paintings donated by Sir William Dixson. The three library buildings were connected in 1942. In 1988, the library expanded once again and the library now houses over 5 million items, including 2 million books and 1.1 million photographs.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia user J Bar and Flickr user Christopher Chan

The State Library of South Australia

The State Library of South Australia is not as large as some of the other Australian State libraries, but it does have the distinction of having the largest collection dating from pre-European times in its South Australiana collection.

This collection is mostly contained within the Mortlock Wing, which is also the oldest and most gorgeous part of the library. Opened in 1884, the building originally held 23,000 books and employed three librarians. Since then, the collection has expanded so much that two massive buildings had to be added to the library, although the Mortlock Wing remains the most visually impressive.

Images courtesy of Flickr users OZinOH and gracias!

Victorian Parliamentary Library, Australia

The Parliament House was built in stages, starting in 1855, and the library was one of the first things completed after the Legislative Assembly and Council. While construction continued all the way through 1929, the building’s Roman Revival design is fluent and smooth so the whole thing seems like one single entity rather than a series of extra wings tagged on throughout the years.

Images courtesy of Flickr user Sally Cummings

Barr Smith Library at the University of Adelaide, Australia

In 1927, the last heir to a prominent philanthropic Australian family offered £20,000 to the University of Adelaide for a new library, on the condition that it be named after his father, Robert Barr Smith. The red brick library was completed in 1932, complete with two friezes commemorating the donations of the Barr Smiths.

Unfortunately, the building was only designed to hold half a million volumes and, since the collection expanded quite quickly, addition after addition had to be added. These days, the library holds over two million volumes and now spans over almost 21,000 square meters. To ensure it doesn’t continue to fill up too quickly, lesser-used volumes are now transferred to the Universities’ Research Repository.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia user pdfpdf

Tuggeranong Library, Australia

Lake Tuggeranong is a man-made body of water created by a dam in 1987. As a result, the suburban town built around the lake is equally new, but with their lovely scenery, it’s no wonder that the local architecture is a step above typical suburban towns. The Tuggeranong Town Center Library is no exception and is, in fact, one of the most picturesque buildings in town – particularly when viewed from the water where you can see its reflection. While it might not be particularly old or have an impressive collection of rare books, with a view like this, it certainly deserves its place on this list.

Image courtesy of Flickr user longreach

University of Otago Central Library, New Zealand

There are ten different libraries at the University of Otago, three of which are not even located on campus. When it comes to looks and impressive collections though, the Central Library stands above the rest, with its gorgeous, modern architecture that lets in ample natural light and its Special Collection containing over 9,000 books printed before 1801. The library offers over 2,000 study spaces for students and over 500,000 books, periodicals and microfilms.

Image courtesy of Flickr user petahopkins

The George Forbes Memorial Library at Lincoln University, New Zealand

Lincoln University isn’t huge, nor is the George Forbes Memorial Library located at the heart of campus inside Ivey Hall, but what they lack in size they make up for in beauty. Ivey Hall was opened in 1880, and while the library was originally opened in the George Forbes Memorial Building in 1960, it was moved into Ivey Hall in 1988 after the building underwent a major refurbishment.

Do any of our readers from Down Under have some suggestions for extraordinary libraries that I left off this list? If so, please let us know about them in the comments.

job secrets
10 Secrets of Hotel Room Service

Guests visiting New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930s enjoyed an amenity that was unheard of at the time: waiters delivering meals directly to their rooms. While the Astoria’s reputation for luxury has endured, room service is no longer exclusive to five-star stays. Roughly 22 percent of the country’s 54,000 hotels [PDF] are willing and able to bring breakfast, lunch, or dinner to people who prefer to eat while splayed out on a large and strange bed.

To get the scoop on what goes into getting food from the kitchen to your floor, Mental Floss spoke with Matt, a hospitality specialist who spent a total of 10 years working in and around room service for a major San Francisco hotel. Matt preferred not to use his last name; since his stories sometimes involved naked people, undercooked chicken, and Oprah, you can understand why. Below, check out a few things you should know before you dig into that tray.


When a room service delivery employee takes a tray from the kitchen to your room, it’s typically covered in a metal lid to retain heat and to prevent other guests from sneezing on it. The higher up you are, the longer it has to travel—and the more that lid traps steam, soaking your food in moisture. “Food sweats in there,” Matt says. “Instead of having crispy, toasted bread, you get wet toast. The longer it stays in there, the worse it gets.” If you want crunchy fries, you’d better be on the first couple of floors.


A seafood dinner is presented on a plate

That lid is a nuisance in other ways. Because it traps heat, it’s effectively cooking your food in the time it takes to get from the chef’s hands to yours. “If you order a steak medium, it will probably be medium well by the time it gets to you,” Matt says. While you can try to outsmart the lid by requesting meat be cooked a notch lower than your preference, it's not so easy to avoid overcooked fish—which will probably also stink up your room. Instead, stick with burgers, club sandwiches, or salads. According to Matt, it’s hard to mess any of them up.


Just because you see a menu in your room, it doesn’t mean the hotel has a kitchen or chef on-site. To cut costs, more hotels are opting to out-source their room service to local eateries. “It might be ‘presented’ by the hotel, but it’s from a restaurant down the street,” Matt says. Alternately, hotels might try to save money by eliminating an overnight chef and having food pre-prepped so a desk clerk or other employee can just heat it up. That’s more likely if sandwiches or salads are the only thing available after certain hours.


Two coffee cups sit on a hotel bed

No, not for the reason you’re thinking. Because so many hotel guests are business travelers who are away from home for weeks or months at a time, some of them get tired of eating alone. When that happens, they turn to the first—and maybe only—person who could offer company: the room service waiter. “People are usually traveling alone, so they’ll offer you food,” Matt explains. Sometimes the traveler is a familiar face: According to Matt, he once sat down to eat with Oprah Winfrey, who was eating by herself despite her suite being filled with her own employees. He also says he had a bite with John F. Kennedy Junior, who wanted to finish watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High before heading for his limo.


Busy hotel kitchens aren’t always paying attention to whether the chicken wings they buy in bulk are frozen raw, frozen cooked, or somewhere in between. “Ask for them extra crispy,” Matt says. That way, they’ll be cooked thoroughly regardless of their freezer status. “I recommend that to everyone.”


A hotel guest pours milk into a bowl of cereal

Breakfast is undoubtedly the busiest time for room service, and those little cards that allow you to check off your menu items the night before are a huge help. “It’s great for everybody involved,” Matt says. “The kitchen can pace themselves and you can get your food on time.”


Yes, guests answer the door barely clothed. No, this is not optimal. “We don’t want to see it,” Matt says. “It's something we dealt with numerous times.” While it's likely your waiter will use discretion, any combination of genitalia, drugs, or illicit activity is best kept out of their sight.


A hotel room service tray sits in a hallway

That move where you stick your soggy fries outside your door? It can lead to some awkward encounters. Matt says he’s seen other guests stop, examine trays, and then pick up discarded food from them. Other times, people leave unimaginably gross items on the trays. “I’ve found condoms on there. Divorce paperwork. All kinds of things.”


Weird people aside, “We don’t really want it out there,” Matt says. “It stinks.” Instead, dial 0 for the front desk and let them know you’re done eating. They’ll dispatch someone to come and get it.


A tip is placed near a hotel check

People pay out the nose for room service, with hotels adding surcharges for “service” and “in-room” dining that can turn a $5 club sandwich into a $15 expense. That’s not great news for guests, but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about not offering a cash tip. Those service fees usually go straight to the employees who got your food to your room. “I never tip,” Matt says. “Most of the time, the service and delivery charges are given to the waiter or split between the people who answered the phone and pick up the tray. It’s better to leave it all on paper to make sure it gets divided up.”

Big Questions
What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding for the first time this year on Friday, March 23. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?


Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.


Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the Sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the Sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the Sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the Sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This story originally ran in 2017.


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