Australia's Secret Gem

When you think of Australia, you don't necessarily think literary heaven. Yet you might be pleasantly surprised.

History

Founded in 1854 as the Melbourne Public Library, the State Library Victoria boasts a rich and storied history.  It holds the distinction of being the oldest public library in all of Australia, and  one of the very first free libraries established anywhere in the world.  Over the course of its impressive tenure, the library has undergone a remarkable transformation.  From its humble beginnings as a single room overflowing with books, it has blossomed into a sprawling complex occupying a full city block. But the library's history goes beyond bricks and mortar. Here are some fascinating stories that unfolded within its walls:

  • A literary haven for outlaws? Rumor has it that notorious bushranger Ned Kelly himself frequented the library in the late 19th century, perhaps seeking solace or inspiration amongst the stacks. While there's no concrete evidence, the legend adds a touch of intrigue to the library's rich history.
  • A pioneering spirit: In 1913, the library became one of the first institutions in the world to establish a Children's Room, recognizing the importance of fostering a love of reading from a young age. This forward-thinking approach continues to inspire libraries around the globe.
  • A repository of resilience: During World War II, the library played a vital role in safeguarding Melbourne's cultural heritage. Librarians meticulously documented the war effort and meticulously preserved precious collections, ensuring their survival for future generations
A black-and-white old photo of the State Library Victoria.
Photo Credit: AustralianCulture on Reddit

Why You Must Visit

The State Library Victoria has transcended its origins as a traditional library, evolving into a dynamic cultural hub for the 21st century. Here's why it should be on your Melbourne must-see list:

  • A Global Powerhouse: Did you know the State Library Victoria is the 3rd busiest library in the world? Immerse yourself in this vibrant atmosphere, buzzing with students, researchers, and book lovers from across the globe.
  • Beyond the Books: The library is a hub for community events, hosting everything from author talks and lectures to film screenings and workshops. You might even catch a live podcast recording in their dedicated studio!
  • Empowering Entrepreneurs: The library offers a suite of resources and programs specifically designed to help budding entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses. Think of it as a springboard for your next big idea!

A Grandiose Sanctuary for the Mind

Stepping beneath the magnificent octagonal dome of the La Trobe Reading Room and prepare to be awestruck. Sunlight streams through stained glass windows, casting a warm glow on the seemingly endless rows of bookshelves that reach towards the heavens.  This architectural marvel was originally known as the Domed Reading Room when it opened in 1903. Designed by architect Joseph Reed, it drew inspiration from grand libraries like the British Museum in London and the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.  Reed's vision was to create a space that embodied the pursuit of knowledge, and his design speaks volumes (pardon the pun).

A beautiful wide-angle shot of the State Library Victoria's La Trobe Reading Room.
Photo Credit: Igor Prahin on Flickr

Over the years, the La Trobe Reading Room has undergone some subtle changes. Renovations in 2003 saw the restoration of the skylights hidden behind copper sheathing for decades, bathing the room in its original natural light. The original oak desks and chairs, adorned with traditional green glass light shades, have been lovingly preserved, creating a timeless atmosphere. Stepping into the La Trobe Reading Room is akin to entering a scene from a historical movie, except it's all very real. The hushed murmur of focused minds and the gentle rustle of turning pages create a symphony of intellectual pursuit.  Inhale the scent of aged paper and leather bindings, and feel the weight of history all around you. This is a sanctuary for scholars, students, and anyone seeking a haven for quiet contemplation and immersion in the written word.

A Feast for the Curious Mind

The State Library Victoria is a constant hive of activity, offering a diverse program of exhibitions guaranteed to spark your curiosity.  Currently, you can delve into the legend himself with  "Ned Kelly: Armour and Anarchy". This captivating exhibition showcases the infamous suit of armor worn by Ned Kelly, offering a unique glimpse into Australia's bushranger history.

For bibliophiles of all ages, "The World of Book" exhibition is a must-see. Immerse yourself in the fascinating world of book illustrations, from delicate hand-drawn works to cutting-edge digital creations.  Explore the evolution of bookbinding and printing, and discover the stories behind some of your favorite literary classics.

A photo of the Books and Ideas section of "The World of Book" exhibition in the State LIbrary Victoria.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The library isn't just for adults!  The Children's Library is a vibrant space brimming with colorful displays, interactive activities, and storytelling sessions designed to ignite a love of reading in young minds.  Regular events like puppet shows and author readings for kids make the library a fun and enriching place for the whole family.

Plan Your Visit

Getting There:

The library is situated in the heart of Melbourne's CBD at 9 La Trobe Street.  Trams conveniently stop nearby, and several train stations like Flinders Street and Parliament are within walking distance.

A map of the State Library Victoria.
Photo Credit: State Library Victoria.

Opening Hours:

  • Monday - Wednesday: 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Thursday: 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
  • Friday - Saturday: 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Sunday: 12:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Free Tours and Events:

  • Building Tours: Take a fascinating journey through the library's architectural history, exploring hidden gems and learning about its evolution. Tours run regularly, so check the website for current schedules and booking options.
  • Exhibition Tours: Delve deeper into the themes and stories showcased in the library's captivating exhibitions. These tours are often offered in conjunction with current displays.
  • Author Talks and Workshops: Engage with renowned authors, participate in creative writing workshops, or attend lectures on diverse topics. The library calendar is brimming with exciting events for all ages and interests.

Pro Tip: Explore the library's website for a comprehensive events calendar and to book your spot for tours and workshops in advance.

Where to Stay:

Melbourne offers a variety of accommodation options to suit every budget. Here are some suggestions near the State Library:

  • Luxury: For an opulent stay, consider The Langham, Melbourne, located right across the street.
  • Mid-Range: The Adelphi Melbourne offers a stylish and central location.
  • Budget-Friendly: Several hostels can be found within walking distance, providing a more affordable option.

What Else to See Nearby:

  • Royal Botanic Gardens: Immerse yourself in the tranquility of these beautiful gardens, boasting diverse flora and stunning landscapes.
  • Melbourne Museum: Explore Victoria's rich history and natural wonders at this world-class museum.
  • Federation Square: This lively public square is a hub for events, exhibitions, and street performers.
  • ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image): Delve into the world of film, television, and digital culture at ACMI.

Bookstores:

  • Readings State Library: Conveniently located within the library itself, Readings offers a vast selection of books across all genres.
  • The Paperback Bookshop: A Melbourne institution, this independent bookstore boasts an impressive collection of new and used books.
  • Readings Carlton: Explore another branch of Readings, this one located in the lively Carlton district.
  • Hill of Content: This independent bookstore specializes in rare and antiquarian books, perfect for bibliophiles seeking unique treasures.

Tips for Your Visit:

  • Download the State Library Victoria app for a digital map, information on current exhibitions and events, and even access to some digitized collections.
  • Photography is permitted in most areas, but be mindful of silent zones and other visitors.
  • Food and drinks are not allowed in designated reading areas, but cafes and vending machines are located within the library.
  • Lockers are available for storing your belongings.

Enjoy your enriching exploration of the State Library Victoria!

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