The journey of the TL Robertson Library

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The newly refurbished TL Robertson Library re-opens officially on 27 February 2023. A centrepiece of the Perth campus and a major player in every student’s academic career, we are taking a look back at the iconic building and how it has developed over time.

One of the earliest buildings on the Western Australian Institute of Technology campus, the TL Robertson Library was officially opened on 16 September 1972. Construction took 3 years.

black and white construction photo of the library being built, on an orange card that reads "June1971"
Construction, June 1971.
back and white photo of a man in a suit speaks into a microphone. he is standing in front of a gold plaque being unveiled from beneath curtains. people sit in chairs behind him.
WAIT Director Haydn Williams speaks at the TL Robertson Library opening event, 16 September 1972, from Atkinson Forum.

It was opened by the then Premier John Tonkin and named for Thomas Logan Robertson (1901-1969) who was a key figure in the establishment of WAIT. Public Works Department architects designed the building to be flexible to anticipate changes in how students studied and would use the library in the future.

black and white photo of a man in a suit speaks into a microphone. people are sitting behind him and to the left an audience sits in Atkinson Forum amphitheatre.
The TL Robertson Library opening event, 16 September 1972, from Atkinson Forum.
The Library’s original entrance was on the Northwest side on Level 3.
black and white photo of people sitting in a cafe
Students in the library cafe, circa 1970s.
black and white photo of library staff sitting on chairs and couches in the staff room
Library staff room on level 7
black and white photo of large warehouse room with tables, books and workers
Level 2 of the Library originally had a book bindery.
faded colour photo of people waiting at a wooden desk in the library
Clients lining up at the information and loans desks, circa 1970s.
black and white photo of a statue bust on a ledge, with wall lettering "Thomas Logan Robertson C.M.G. Inaugural chairman of the council of this institute 1967-1969"
The library was named in memory of Thomas Logan Robertson C.M.G, inaugural chairman of WAIT council from 1967-1969.
black and white photo of five people sitting in lounge chairs reading in the library
Magazines, journals, newspapers and periodicals on display for clients. Circa 1970s.

The initial decision by WAIT to create a centralised library building rather than multiple faculty libraries has meant that students, staff and community members have intermingled for the last 50 years. The TL Robertson Library is a central meeting place for all.

University Marketing photographic materials. Photo by Robert Garvey.
a student sits at a large white computer, behind her a staff member is showing a group around. library book shelves are in the background.
The microfiche catalogue in use in the Library, early 1980s.
students at catalogue machines, library bookshelves in the background.
The microfiche catalogue in use in the Library, early 1980s.

In 1989, stage two of the TL Robertson Library commenced. Three more years of construction and extensions began, ready for the start of semester one in 1992.

The main entrance on level three shifted to the South side of level two. The original arcade layout of level four was opened up and its three public entrances removed. Additional internal staircases were added. These extensions created much needed additional space. The final cost of the extensions was $15.3 million at the time in 1992.

The new 1992 entrance on level two. Photo by Robert Garvey.

2020-2023 refurbishment

By 2020, the building was approaching 50 years old and various services needed upgrading. The significant refurbishment was led by Architects Hames Sharley in collaboration with Schmidt Hammer Lassen.

One of the major changes is the relocation of books on levels 4, 5 and 6 into compactus shelves on level 2. This meant that more windows were able to be installed on the upper levels, as the concern of sunlight damaging the books is no longer an issue. Now, bright study spaces and views of the campus are located on all corners of each upper level.

Library bookshelves, circa 1995. Photo by Robert Garvey.
grey chairs and green desks in the bright library space. there are windows to the right.
The newly refurbished study spaces on level 3. Photo by Joel Barbitta.

Another significant change is the re-introduction of the level three entrance in its original 1972 location on the North side.

Level 3 entrance. Photo by Joel Barbitta.

The journey of the TL Robertson Library follows the evolution of technology, education and student life over the last 50 years, especially the change of books and academic journals from physical to online formats, and the upgrades in computer technology from computers to small personal devices. But some things haven’t changed a bit – the library has always been the go-to place for studying, group assignments and support for finding resources.

Students on the grass at the front of the level three library entrance, circa 1970s.