Established in 1854 as the Melbourne Public Library, State Library Victoria is Australia’s oldest public library and one of the first free public libraries in the world.
Our founders believed that access to knowledge was critical for the development of a civil and prosperous community, and created the Library as ‘the people’s university’ – a place of learning and discovery for all Victorians. They also charged the Library with preserving Victoria’s heritage by collecting items of historical and cultural significance for future generations.
These are responsibilities that remain a critical focus today. Each year we add more than 70,000 items to the Library’s rich collection and lead the sector with our ambitious digitisation programs.
We want the Library to be a place where all Victorians can discover, learn, create and connect. We want to be a cultural and heritage destination for Victorians, and a catalyst for generating new knowledge and ideas.
The State Library of Victoria is the central library of the state of Victoria, Australia, located in Melbourne. It is on the block bounded by Swanston, La Trobe, Russell, and Little Lonsdale streets, in the northern centre of the central business district. The library holds over 2 million books and 16,000 serials, including the diaries of the city’s founders, John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner, and the folios of Captain James Cook, R.N.. It also houses the original armour of Ned Kelly.
In 1853, the decision to build a state library was made at the instigation of Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe and Mr Justice Redmond Barry, Q.C. (Sir Redmond from 1860). A competition was held to decide who would design the new building; local architect Joseph Reed, who later designed the Melbourne Town Hall, Ormond College and the Royal Exhibition Building, won the commission.
On 3 July 1854, the recently inaugurated Governor Sir Charles Hotham laid the foundation stone of both the new library and the University of Melbourne. The library opened in 1856, with a collection of 3,800 books chosen by Mr Justice Barry, the President of Trustees. Augustus H. Tulk, the first librarian, was appointed three months after the opening.
The first reading room was the Queen’s Reading Room (now Queen’s Hall), which opened in 1859. Temporary buildings built in 1866 for the Intercolonial Exhibition remained in use by the library until 1909, when work began on a new annexe building to mark the library’s Jubilee. This new building was the landmark Domed Reading Room, which opened in 1913 and was designed by Norman G. Peebles.
Plans for the original annexe were scaled back due to the money running out and the annexe, to house a new museum were gradually built during the Interwar years in an austere stripped classical style.
The reading dome’s original skylights were modified and covered in copper sheets in 1959 due to water leakage.
The library complex also held the State’s Gallery and Museum until the National Gallery of Victoria moved to St Kilda Road in the late 1960s, and the current Melbourne Museum was built in the Carlton Gardens in the 1990s.
The library underwent major refurbishments between 1990 and 2004, designed by architects Ancher Mortlock & Woolley. The project cost approximately A$200 million. The reading room closed in 1999 to allow for renovation, during which natural light was returned. The renamed La Trobe Reading Room reopened in 2003.
The redevelopment included the construction of a number of exhibition spaces which are used to house the permanent exhibitions The Mirror of the World: Books and Ideas and The Changing Face of Victoria as well as a display from the Pictures Collection in the Cowen Gallery. As a result of the redevelopment, the State Library of Victoria can now be considered one of the largest exhibiting libraries in the world.
In February 2010, the southern wing of the library on Little Lonsdale Street was reopened as the Wheeler Centre, part of Melbourne’s city of literature initiative.
On 29 April 2015 the Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley announced that the 2015–16 State Budget would provide $55.4 million towards the redevelopment of the State Library of Victoria, including the restoration of the Queen’s Hall, the creation of a rooftop garden terrace, a dedicated children’s and youth space, and the opening up 40 percent more of the building to the public.