State Library of Victoria

From Academic Kids

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The library from Swanston Street

The State Library of Victoria is the central library of the state of Victoria, Australia, located in the city of Melbourne. It is sited on the block bounded by Swanston, LaTrobe, Russell, and Little Lonsdale Streets, in the northern centre of the central business district. The Library's combined collections contain over 1.5 million books and 16,000 serials, including the diaries of the city's founders, John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner, as well as the folios of Captain James Cook.

In 1853 the decision to build a state library was made at the instigation of Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe and Sir Redmond Barry. A competition was held to decide who would design the new building. Local architect, Joseph Reed (who later designed the Melbourne Town Hall 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 Sir Barry, the President of Trustees. Augustus H. Tulk, the first Librarian, was appointed three months after the opening.

The Library complex also held the State's Gallery and Museum, until the National Gallery of Victoria moved to St Kilda Road in the 1960s, and the current Melbourne Museum was built in the Carlton Gardens in the 1990s.


Front lawn and statues

The grassy square in front of the Library's grand entrance on Swanston Street is a popular lunch-spot for the city's workers and students of the adjacent RMIT University. Originally enclosed by a picket fence, then a wrought iron fence and gates in the 1870s; the space was opened with the removal of the fence in 1939. A number of statues exist in the park. A pair of bronze lions graced the park from the 1860s, but were removed in 1937. Currently, there are statues of Sir Redmond Barry, designed by James Gilbert and built by Percival Ball, installed in 1887; Saint George and the Dragon, by the English sculptor Sir Edgar Boehm, installed in 1889; and Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc), a replica of the statue by French sculptor Emmanuel Fremiet, installed in 1907.

On Sundays between 2:30 and 5:30 a speakers forum takes place on the library forecourt, where orators take turns in speaking on various subjects.

Reading rooms

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The La Trobe Reading Room in the State Library of Victoria.

The first reading room was the Queen's Reading Room (now Queen's Hall), which was 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. Its octagonal space was designed to hold over a million books and up to 500 readers at a time. It is 34 3/4 m in both diameter and height, and the dome's annulus is nearly 5m wide. The dome was the largest of its type in the world on completion, and its original skylights were covered in copper sheets in 1959 due to water leakage. The Room was closed in 1999 to allow for renovation, during which natural light was returned. The now renamed La Trobe Reading Room reopened in 2003.

In 1965, the La Trobe Building annexe was opened to house the Library's Australiana collection, which has since moved to the La Trobe Reading Room.


The Library has undergone major refurbishments between 1990 and 2004, designed by architects Ancher Mortlock & Woolley. The project cost approximately $200 million AUD.

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