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More to the State Library of NSW than books

Don’t judge a library by its collection – there’s more to the State Library than books!

JK Rowling once said, when in doubt, go to the library. After seeing the variety of child-friendly activities at the State Library of NSW these Winter school holidays, the Inner West Mums decided to take said author’s advice and drop by for a visit, with a 7-year-old in tow of course.

Miss 7 loves drawing, watching YouTube videos involving furry animals, and dancing. Books and reading are bit lower on her list of holiday entertainment. Thank goodness the 150-year-old State Library of NSW knows a thing or two about keeping energetic little ones entertained. On the day the Inner West Mums visits, the Library is hosting a free ‘Artmaking in the Paintings Gallery’* activity suitable for kids of all ages.

The activity’s premise is simple. State Library Art Educator, Andrea, offers each child a slip of paper with an art ‘task’ to complete. Miss 7’s first task is to find a painting with car in it and to draw her interpretation of the car, with herself behind the wheel. Sounds simple enough right?

Miss 7 creating a sketch inspired by ‘Collection Day’ by John Bokor

And it is simple. With the Library providing coloured pencils, paper, clipboard and even a cushion, so blossoming artists can sit comfortably and sketch, the hardest part is wandering the Library’s Paintings Gallery – which houses over 300 original artworks – and not getting so engrossed that you forget your child! Big kids don’t have to miss out either as this activity will keep children of every age entertained. On the day we visit, there are pre-schoolers doodling on the floor, young teens absorbed in creating a masterpiece, and even adults joining in the fun. “Its a way of making the kids interact with art in a different way”, says Andrea. And how right she is.

Miss 7’s sketch inspired by ‘Collection Day’ by John Bokor (image copyright Inner West Mums 2023)

Miss 7 completes two ‘tasks’ at record speed, one involves finding ‘fancy shoes’ and drawing them, a task she relishes and which leads to a sketch of a black, knee-high pair worn by Captain Arthur Phillip in an oil painting depicting the founding of Sydney Cove. What can I say, the kid has taste.

Miss 7’s sketch inspired by The Founding of Australia. By Capt Arthur Phillip RN Sydney Cove, Jan 26th 1788 by Algernon Tamage (image copyright Inner West Mums 2023)

The hour flies by in a miscellany of studying artworks, focused drawing, and discussing each completed sketch. Before I know it Miss 7 and I have wandered through all three rooms in the Painting Gallery, viewed a few hundred paintings in the process, and not once has she complained – except when the activity comes to an end.

Children’s Library (image courtesy of the State Library of NSW)

Sensing the potential storm brewing in Miss 7’s tea cup, Andrea suggests we might want to browse the picture books in the Children’s Library, or have a play in the games-filled Family Room. Bless her.

Family Room, (image courtesy of the State Library of NSW)

We make a stop at each. Miss 7 loves the ceiling filled with flying books in the Children’s Library and plays hide and seek with a new friend in the Family Room.  We finally end up in the light-filled ground floor Library café, Café Trim, on a table next to one of the floor-to-ceiling glass walls overlooking the Macquarie Street entrance to the library.

As Miss 7 is occupied with her choc milkshake and ham and cheese croissant, I chat with one of the State Library team who tells me about the family-friendly exhibits and activities available throughout the school holidays and school year.

Shakespeare First Folio, (image courtesy of the State Library of NSW)

One of this year’s highlights is the ‘For All Time: Shakespeare in Print,’ an exhibition celebrating the First Folio – the first edition of Shakespeare’s collected works published 400 years ago, of which the Library happens to hold the only copy in Australia. In addition to the exhibit, there’s a curator-lead tour, a virtual ‘excursion’ for kids and a visit to the Shakespeare Room – a replica Tudor room with every inch created to showcase, celebrate or bring to life William Shakespeare and his immortal plays.

Shakespeare Room, State Library of NSW, (image copyright Inner West Mums 2023)

We end our visit with Miss 7 vowing to return again – and complete another art activity – whilst I (a die-hard Shakespeare fan) am already registering to attend one of the tours!


*As of the time of publication, the ‘Artmaking in the Paintings Gallery’ has concluded but check out the State Library of NSW’s What’s On for Kids and Families page for child-friendly activities during the school holidays and term.


Heard about a school holiday activity or attraction you’d like to share? Leave a comment below or email us at

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