Once upon a chilly Sunday morning, the call of a million books drew me out of bed to the State Library of Victoria. The middle of autumn is my favourite time in Melbourne, crisp air fills your lungs, the parks are a glittering shade of gold, and the aroma of freshly ground coffee floats through the air.
The Victorian State Library is the number one literary spot in Melbourne. Despite arriving early, the steps of the classical forecourt were already dotted with people waiting for the doors to open. Young people with backpacks and laptops, older people with their grandchildren, and tourists with giant lenses attached to their cameras. When the doors opened and people flooded inside, most hurried off to find a quiet corner to write or read, others set up chess boards, and some just marvelled at the beauty and grandeur of the architecture.
Being an introverted book-loving person can feel somewhat isolating at times, yet here on this unassuming April morning was a space where you could be alone together. Students, writers, and dreamers in their natural habitat. Individuals working in solitude, in the company of their people. All libraries have an air of silence to retreat from the hustle and bustle outside, but even with hundreds of daily visitors, the library has a quiet ambience that brings a sense of clarity.
The State Library (originally the Melbourne Public Library) opened in 1854 when Queen Victoria was just 35 years old. The State Library of Victoria is Australia’s oldest library and one of the first public libraries in the world. This beautiful library is the jewel in Melbourne’s literary crown, contributing to Melbourne’s cultural status as the second global City of Literature and the first Creative City in Australia. According to the City of Literature website, Melburnians consume more books, magazines and newspapers per capita than any other city in Australia. So, maybe my innate love of literature is just in my blood.
During the Victorian Gold Rush in the mid-nineteenth century, Melbourne boomed with the influx of wealth. At this time, significant funding was apportioned to raising the cultural profile of the city. The Melbourne Public Library became a symbol of the city’s growth and prosperity, offering a place of learning and discovery for all Victorians as a people’s university.
In modern-day Melbourne, the library hosts over two million visitors each year, prompting significant state investment for the future. The State Library is currently raising money towards their five-year redevelopment goal, Vision 2020. Libraries are adapting to the changing needs of our contemporary world and the Vision 2020 project will see the complete transformation of the libraries public spaces and educational programs to create a modern facility that future generations will use and appreciate.
The State Library is an architectural beauty, particularly the dome viewing platform at the very top of the building that provides a spectacular birds-eye view of the La Trobe Reading Room. At these great heights you can also see the magnificent Shakespeare Window, originally made for the Apollo Music Hall in 1862 and later bequeathed to the library in 1960. I usually take the elevator up to the top and then walk back down via the Dome Galleries. One of my favourite exhibits is The Changing Face of Victoria, which includes the armour worn by Australia’s infamous bushranger, Ned Kelly (complete with bullet holes).
Don’t miss the beautiful reading rooms hidden from the public, such as the Queen’s Reading Room, which can only be seen on the library tour. The Cowen Art Gallery is a showcase of Victorian artwork and the history of the state from colonisation to modern-day, including early snapshots of Melbourne and portraits of influential Australian figures. Entry is free, so you can immerse yourself in Victorian history and culture even when your purse is empty, but if you do have a few pennies to spare, Readings Bookshop inside the library lobby is brimming with great books.
State Library Victoria
Corner Russell & La Trobe Streets
Telephone: 03 8664 7000
Open from 10am daily
Following my library visit, I decided to continue with a wander through Fitzroy Gardens to make the most of the lovely autumn weather.
Want to see more stunning libraries? I know you do.