State Library of Victoria

State Library of Victoria
Established 1854
Location Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Size 2,277,209 monographs, newspapers and serials (30 June 2014)[1]
Other information
Budget $86.7M (FY 2013-14)[2]
Director Kate Torney (CEO)[3]
Staff 273 (248.04 FTE)[4]

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 cities 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.


Lithograph depicting the original vision for the State Library complex, including the original Victorian reading room dome as part of the never-realised Russell Street annexe
A panoramic view of the library facade, forecourt and lawns from Swanston Street
Overview from high above Swanston Street

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 201516 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.[5]

Front lawn, forecourt and statues

A view of the library from the left side facing Swanston Street

The grassy lawn in front of the library's grand entrance on Swanston Street is a popular lunch-spot for the city's workers and students at the adjacent RMIT University. Originally enclosed by a picket fence, then by 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 are in the entrance area. A pair of bronze lions graced the park from the 1860s until 1937. There are statues of Mr Justice Sir Redmond Barry, Q.C., designed by James Gilbert and built by Percival Ball, installed in 1887; Saint George and the Dragon, by the English sculptor Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, installed in 1889; Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc), a replica of the statue by French sculptor Emmanuel Frémiet, installed in 1907; and Charles La Trobe, by Australian sculptor Peter Corlett, installed in 2006.

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

Reading Rooms

The Dome

The La Trobe Reading Room

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 600 readers. It is 34.75 m in both diameter and height, and its oculus is nearly 5 m wide. The dome was the largest of its type in the world on completion.[6]

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

Chess Reading Room

The library has a chess room that houses a wide range of materials dedicated to the history, study and practice of chess. It contains a collection of items from the Anderson Chess Collection, one of the three largest public chess collections in the world. In addition to bookshelves containing an extensive range of books and periodicals relating to chess, the room has game tables with chessboards and pieces, and a few glass cabinets containing historical chess paraphernalia. The room is a multi-purpose room intended also for reading and studying.

Redmond Barry Reading Room

This place is being located at the eastern end of the Library. Houses contemporary collection of books, magazines, and periodicals. The centre of the room has internet enabled computers and shared desks. The mezzanine has folio-size books and more independent study desks. The ceiling has glass panels. The reading room is easily the busiest room during pre-exam period in Victoria.

Heritage Collections Reading Room

Entry to the room is appointment based. The room itself does not hold collection, rather it is a place to view heritage collection materials type of room. There are 14 historical pendant lamps hanging off the ceiling and a detailed ceramic embossed wall and ceiling. The map bags is the only collection of material held in HCRR, they are basically xerox copies of maps of metropolitan Melbourne between the 1800s to 1900s and no appointment is required to see them.

Arts Collection Reading Room

The library maintains an extensive, world-class collection of books, periodicals, recordings and other materials pertaining to art, music and the performing arts. The room is built in a courtyard hence the angular shape of the room. The main room includes computer workstations which provide access to the Library’s catalogue, databases and the web, reading tables, laser printer, photocopier and a microfiche reader. And it has an audio visual room and listening posts.

Genealogy Reading Room

Located in one of the courtyards. The room has extensive collection of microfilms and microfiche, printed references, databases, and biographies for finding people. There are many facilities available such as computers and a laser printer.

Newspaper Reading Room

Located in one of the courtyards. The room holds microfilm of Victorian, interstate, and some international newspapers. There are modern microfilm/scanner readers enabling patrons to save images of newspapers to USB memory stick. Also only three months worth of physical copies of Victorian newspaper are kept in the room. There are a range of facilities in this room to help you with your research.


La Trobe Journal

Founded by the Friends of the State Library of Victoria in 1968 to promote interest in the Library's Australiana collection, in 1998, the State Library of Victoria Foundation became the sponsor of the journal, enabling the publication to expand considerably. As of 2013 it is published twice a year in Autumn and Spring.[7]


Many of the library's electronic databases are available from home to any Victorian registered as a State Library User. Databases include the full Encyclopædia Britannica; Oxford Reference dictionaries and encyclopaedias; multi-subject magazine and journal article databases; newspaper archives of most major Australian and international papers from 2000 onwards; and specialist subject databases.


The library's collection includes 2,000 rolls of film containing photographs of Melbourne and country Victoria from the early 1970s. These 70,000 photographs are in the process of being digitized and made available to the public.[8]


The State Library of Victoria provides education programmes for community and schools, conferences such as Reading Matters and library research fellowships. The library is home to the Centre for Youth Literature and the Inside a dog young adult fiction community.[9][10] From 1994-2014 it managed the Vicnet community internet service.[11]


  1. State Library of Victoria Annual Report 2013-14, p. 22, retrieved 5 October 2014
  2. State Library of Victoria Annual Report 2013-14, p. 18, retrieved 5 October 2014
  3. "State Library Victoria welcomes new CEO Kate Torney", 18 November 2015, retrieved 12 May 2016
  4. State Library of Victoria Annual Report 2013-14, p. 33, retrieved 5 October 2014
  5. Creative Victoria, Over $55 Million To Transform The State Library Of Victoria, 29 April 2015, retrieved 29 April 2015
  6. Lewis, Miles (Spring 2003). "The Dome". The Latrobe Journal. 72: 58. Archived from the original on 2015-03-24.
  7. "About - La Trobe Journal". State Library of Victoria Foundation. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
  8. Stayner, Guy (18 November 2015). "State Library makes public up to 70,000 never-seen photos of Melbourne and country Victoria". ABC. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  9. "Literature, Art and culture, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia". Victoria. State Government of Victoria. Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development. Retrieved 2016-07-15.
  10. Shuttleworth, Mike (2007). "Inside a dog". Connections (60).
  11. "Winners » ANZIA - Australia & New Zealand Internet Awards". Retrieved 2016-07-15.
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