The collection was started in 1860, at the inception of the Queensland Parliament. On its inception, the Government arranged for agents in Great Britain to buy relevant material, thus ensuring that the Queensland Parliamentary Library collection of the day was contemporary, but with retrospective depth.
Successive Librarians and their Library Committees added to this, selecting books, magazines and newspapers which would assist Members in their parliamentary and constituency roles.
The most noteworthy in this respect was Denis O'Donovan, Queensland Parliamentary Librarian from 1874 to 1901. He built the collection to around 32,000 volumes by the time of his retirement. He also catalogued the collection and his dictionary-type catalogue is used to the present day to access the collection which is still housed in its original shelving.
O'Donovan was an Irish scholar whose academic bent was towards languages especially French and Italian. He lectured in art appreciation, architecture and the classics and was awarded the CMG and memberships of numerous learned societies in Europe. These included the Royal Society of Literature (England), the Royal Geographical Society of England, the Incorporated Society of Authors (England), the Society of Literature, Science and Art (England), the Societes de Geographie Commerciale of Paris and Havre, the Musee Social (Paris) and the Societe d'Anthropologie (France).
Over a period of 20 years O'Donovan compiled a catalogue of the Library's contents, with biographical notes on authors, and notations for many subject headings which enhanced its usefulness to most readers. This 'encyclopaedic' dictionary catalogue, which by 1900 had been expanded to three sizeable volumes, was universally applauded as a scholarly work ranking with the best in the world.
"The Parliamentary Library in Brisbane is one of the best of its size I have ever seen, with a catalogue which is the model Catalogue of all Catalogues". (Duffield, 1889)
"A remarkable Catalogue... Queensland may well be proud of its contribution to bibliography". (The Bibliographer, London)
See also :
This large collection of 32,000 items covers wide ranging subjects from travel, geography, biography, science, history, to political science, theology, law and philosophy. British parliamentary papers, debates and other materials form a valuable part of the collection.
- Journals of Captain James Cook's various voyages 1768-1780
- Early Australian sea and land expedition publications (Darwin, Mitchell, Flinders, Oxley, Leichhardt, Jardine, La Perouse)
- 19th century International Exhibition Catalogues
- Spanish English Dictionary (1599)
- Matthews, G.M. Birds of Australia (1910-1928)
- Complete Works of Voltaire (70 volumes, 1784)
- Diggles, S. Ornithology of Australia (1866-70)
O'Donovan materials are only available for perusal in the library by Members or bona fide scholars. The material is not available for loan.
The library has a policy of ongoing restoration and preservation for the collection.
Visitors to the Parliamentary High Tea are offered a tour of the O'Donovan Library. Visits by community groups can be arranged by contacting the Parliamentary Librarian.