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, the aroma of freshly ground coffee floats through the air, and an abundance of pink camellias are in full bloom.
The Victorian State Library is the number one literary spot in Melbourne. The grandeur of the architecture, little nooks to read, a quiet ambiance, and wonderful art and exhibits. There are also beautiful reading rooms hidden from the public, such as the Queen’s Reading Room, which can only be seen on the library tour.
I arrived early and the steps of the classical forecourt were already filling with people waiting for the doors to open. Young people with backpacks and laptops, older people with their grandchildren, tourists with giant lenses attached to their cameras. The doors opened and people flooded in, some found a quiet corner to write or read, others set up chess boards, and some just marvelled at the beauty of the interior.
Being an introverted book loving person can feel somewhat isolating at times, yet here on this unassuming autumn morning was proof that there are others out there with interests that align with mine. Students, writers, and dreamers in their natural habitat. Individuals working in solitude, but in the company of their people. All libraries have an air of silence, creating a sanctuary to retreat from the hustle and bustle outside. Even with hundreds of daily visitors, the library has a calm ambience that feels like home.
The State Library (originally the Melbourne Public Library) opened in 1854, when Queen Victoria was just 35 years old. Australia’s oldest library and one of the first public libraries in the world. Our beautiful library contributes to Melbourne’s literary 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 part of my social conditioning as a Victorian and Melburnian.
Gold changed everything for Victoria in the 1850’s and Melbourne flourished. With the influx of wealth from the gold rush, significant investment was made to raise the cultural profile of the city. Melbourne Public Library became a symbol of the city’s growth and prosperity, offering a place of learning and discovery for all Victorians – the people’s university.
In modern day Melbourne, the library hosts over two million visitors each year, prompting significant state government investment for the future. The State Library is currently raising money to begin a five year redevelopment called Vision 2020. Libraries are adapting to the changing needs of our contemporary world, the Vision 2020 project will see the complete transformation of the libraries public spaces, facilities and educational programs to create a modern space 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), and his original Jerilderie letter.
Be sure to explore the phenomenal Cowen Art Gallery, which showcases 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. You have to take advantage of lovely weather in Melbourne as it can (and usually does) change in a heartbeat.
Want to see more stunning libraries? I know you do.