A Brief History of the University of Sydney Library
II The Fisher Bequest
In 1885 the University received thirty thousand pounds from the estate of the late Thomas Fisher, retired bootmaker and property investor, to be used "in establishing and maintaining a library".
Thomas Fisher had lived near the University and although not a formally educated man, often walked through the University grounds and talked with staff and students. He attended official functions and would have heard the appeal in 1879 by the Chancellor, Sir William Manning, for "one of our men of great wealth and equal public spirit" to fund "a library worthy of comparison with like edifices at Home". Fisher had also known Stenhouse and would have been impressed that his friend's collection had been considered such an important addition to the Library. Thomas Fisher was the Library's greatest benefactor but unfortunately no image of him survives.
There was a difference of opinion in the University on how to spend the bequest. The Chancellor thought the fund should be used for a building and to contribute to the salary of a Librarian, but the Vice Chancellor and Library Committee preferred to buy books. In 1887 a compromise was reached. £20,000 plus accumulated interest was set aside for a building fund with the hope that the government would provide matching funds and £10,000 was directed to an endowment for books. In the event the fund supported the salary of an assistant librarian and later the Librarian until 1937. From 1882 to 1914 the Registrar H E Barff was responsible for the Library. His Assistant, Caleb Hardy, pioneered the use of the new Dewey decimal classification in Australia and printed catalogues were published in 1885, 1893 and 1900. By the turn of the century the collection had reached 50,000 volumes. A second staff member was appointed in 1894 and a third in 1898.
After many reversals and delays the NSW government agreed to fund the full cost of a new library building and the Fisher capital could be preserved as an endowed book fund. Plans were drawn up for the library by the Government Architect, Walter Vernon, and construction took eight years.
Fisher Library opened in 1909. The reading room was in the Gothic tradition with a magnificent cedar roof but the adjoining multi-tier book stack was of advanced design, including two electric book lifts. The reading room is now the MacLaurin Hall.
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