The history of the State Library of Victoria

How to research the history, development, architecture, collections and management of the State Library of Victoria.

Building timeline

1854 July 3 Foundation stone laid

1856 February 11 Melbourne Public Library opened: central portion of Swanston Street frontage (50x50 feet)

Late 1850s Picket fence along Swanston Street Forecourt central stairs

1859 May 24 The Queen's Reading Room opened: southern portion of Swanston Street frontage (95x50 feet)

Early 1860s Bronze lions installed in forecourt

1864 December 24 Northern portion of Swanston Street frontage (90x50 feet) opened (now Palmer Hall) 

1866 Exhibition buildings: May Rotunda (71 feet in diameter) & Great Hall (220x82 feet); September Iron annexe, running east-west in the eastern half of the block; October North and South Wings finished

1870 Portico (Swanston Street) built

1873 Wrought iron gates installed in forecourt

1874 McArthur Gallery finished – a separate building, joined to the south wing by a covered walkway

1875 McArthur Gallery opened

1876 Wrought iron fence replaced picket fence in forecourt

1877 Little Lonsdale St: iron fence

1883 Electric lighting installed 

1884 Iron annexe demolished

1886 September 2 Barry Hall opened: upper level of south wing in Little Lonsdale Street; ground floor later became known as Verdon Gallery

1887 August 23 Statue of Redmond Barry unveiled; October first Buvelot Gallery (later named Swinburne Hall) opened: Little Lonsdale Street near Russell Street

1889 Statue of George & the Dragon purchased and installed in forecourt

1891 Gasoliers installed beside central stairs (later converted to electricity)

1892 McCoy Hall (now Redmond Barry), Stawell Gallery (now Cowen) and La Trobe Galleries completed;

1892 August 8 Lending Library opened

1899 South west Pavilion on Swanston Street completed; Great Hall (which Barry had hoped would last ‘for centuries’) demolished

1906 April 21 Baldwin Spencer Hall opened: central section on Russell Street

1907 February Statue of Jeanne d’Arc installed in forecourt; architects Bates, Peebles and Smart appointed to design new Library building 

1908 Rotunda demolished

1909 Builders JW & DA Swanson appointed to complete new Library building; October 26 foundation stone laid

1913 November 14 Domed Reading Room opened, in the space formerly occupied by the Great Hall and Rotunda

1924 Bronze lions removed from forecourt

1928 October 22 on Little Lonsdale St between Swinburne and Barry Halls: lower level opened as second Buvelot Gallery (later Bindon Hall); October 29 upper level opened as Print Room (later Thorpe Hall); South Rotunda (now blue rotunda) completed

1932 May 3 McAllan Gallery opened

1937 February 24 First World War commemorative statues ‘Wipers’ and ‘The Driver’ unveiled

1938 November 9 Moreton Bay Figs removed from forecourt; after public protests, replaced with Melaleucas; Diagonal stairs from Swanston Street

1939 Wrought iron gates removed from forecourt

1940 North Rotunda (now red rotunda) built

1941 Childers Room

1944 Revolving doors installed in entrance

1948 February first intake to Library training school

1951 July 2 Foundation stone laid for La Trobe Library

1959 Dome sheathed in copper to prevent water leaks

1961 North-West Pavilion completed with an upper storey

1962 North Wing (last remaining portion of 1866 Exhibition Buildings) demolished

1963 Planetarium completed

1965 September 6 La Trobe Library opened (now the La Touche Armstrong Building)

1967-1968 National Gallery of Victoria relocated to St Kilda Road

1971 27 February The Lending Library closed

1973 Public Record Office of Victoria created; work began on restoration of Queen's Hall

1975 Queen's Hall reopened as part of Library

1977 Public Record Office of Victoria leaves 328 Swanston Street

1980 February 29 Reference and Information Centre opens on ground floor of Dome building

1990 Redevelopment begins

1992 North East and South East Wings on Russell Street completed

1993 January 12 Sculpture ‘Architectural fragment’ installed on Swanston Street footpath

1995 North West courtyard glassed in to create new reading room (now the Genealogy Centre)

1997 March 3 refurbished and enlarged Information Centre re-opened to the public on ground floor of Dome building as Trescowthick Information Centre; April Centre officially opened by the Premier; July 13 Museum of Victoria closed, preparatory to move to Carlton Gardens

1998 February Refurbishment of forecourt completed; ‘Wipers’ and ‘The Driver’ removed from forecourt; July Newspaper Reading room opened in glassed-over north east courtyard

1999 Domed Reading Room closed for refurbishing

2001 Keith Murdoch Gallery opened: lower hall, southern portion of Swanston Street frontage

2003 July 8 Domed Reading Room reopened as La Trobe Reading Room; Experimedia south west courtyard opened; September 22 Arts Reading Room opened: south east courtyard; November 27 Cowen Gallery, Redmond Barry Reading Room and Heritage Collections Reading Room opened

2006 November 21 statue of Governor La Trobe unveiled

2007 Substantial completion of the final stage of redevelopment works

2016 July 5 La Trobe Reading Room information desk closed; reference service consolidated at centralised service desk in the Information Centre

2017 Vision 2020 redevelopment works begin

2018 September 21 Opening of the new Russell and La Trobe Street entrances, Russell Street Welcome Zone, relocated Newspaper and Family History Reading Rooms, relocated Arts Reading Room, Cowen Gallery information desk (desk service previously located in the Information Centre), and the Isabella Fraser Room. Swanston Street entrance closed until spring 2019.

Evolution of the Library site

Watch this virtual 3D reconstruction to discover how the 1856 Melbourne Public Library has evolved into the contemporary State Library of Victoria, spanning an entire city block and bearing traces of more than 100 years of architectural influences.

Library name changes

The institutions now known as Museum Victoria, the National Gallery of Victoria and Public Record Office Victoria have all shared the site at 328 Swanston Street at various times.

1856 to 1869
Melbourne Public Library.

1869
Public Library, Museums and National Gallery.
The Library Museums and National Gallery Act 1869 (no. 357) incorporated the Library with the Museums and the National Gallery.

1944
Public Library of Victoria.
The Public Library, National Gallery and Museums Act 1944 (no. 5053) severed the administrative connection with the Museums and the National Gallery. They became three separate institutions, located on the one site. The Library gradually became known as the Public Library.

1960
State Library of Victoria.
This became the official title of the institution after the passing of the State Library National Gallery, National Museum and Institute of Applied Science Act 1960.

1965
Following the passing of the Library Council of Victoria Act 1965 (no. 7364), the Library became a division of the Library Council of Victoria. The La Trobe Library was also established in 1965.

1997
The Library Board of Victoria was established in February 1997 under the Libraries Act 1988 as amended by the Arts Institutions (Amendment Act) 1996. The amending act changed the name of the Council of the State Library of Victoria to the Library Board of Victoria. The Board is subject to the direction and control of the Minister for the Arts.

2014
From 17 November 2014 the Library repositioned its brand, and became known as State Library Victoria.

State Librarians and Chief Executive Officers

1856-1873 Augustus Henry Tulk
1873-1881 Henry Sheffield
1881-1895 Thomas Francis Bride, LL.D.
1895-1896 Michael Francis Dowden, LL.B.
1896-1925 Edmund La Touche Armstrong, M.A., LL.B.
1925-1931 Robert Douglass Boys, B.A.
1931-1943 Ernest Roland Pitt, B.A.
1943-1944 Thomas Fleming Cooke, B.A.
1944-1945 William Charles Baud, B.A.
1945-1960 Colin Alexander McCallum, O.B.E., B.A.
1960-1965 John Andrew Feely, B.Sc.
1965-1967 Thomas Arthur Kealy, B.A. (acting)
1967-1981 Kenneth Horn, B.A., Mus.B., Dip.N.Z.L.S.
1982-1985 Warren Horton, B.A.
1986-1989 Jane La Scala, B.SocSc.
1989-1993 Leah Mann, B.A., Dip.Soc.St.
1993 Derek Whitehead OAM, BA (Hons), BD (Hons) MLib, GradDipLib
1993-1997 Helen Tait, B.A., Dip.N.Z.L.S.
1997 (Acting) Derek Whitehead OAM, BA (Hons), BD (Hons) MLib, GradDipLib
1997-2002 Frances Awcock, B.A., Dip.Lib.
2003-2012 Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, BA (Hons), Dip Info Management - Archives Administration
2012 (Acting) Sue Hamilton
2012-2015 Sue Roberts, BA (Hons), PGDipLib, MA
2015 (Acting) Justine Hyde
2015- Kate Torney, B. Communications

Library Board Presidents

A chronological list of the current and former Presidents of the Library's Board can be found on the Library's website.