Introduction to the library

Who are we?

The State Library opened in 1856 as the “people’s university” and is Australia's oldest public library. We are Victoria’s reference and research library and, while we play an important role in preserving and archiving our state’s history, we are also the information gateway to the wide world beyond. We complement and extend our fabulous public libraries, but our job is actually very different.

We collect almost everything published in Victoria, much that is published in Australia, a good selection of overseas publications, and we rarely throw anything out. While the public libraries lend a variety of materials and regularly turn over their stock, the State library gives home access to its enormous collection of e-resources and does not lend print materials, largely because we are an archive library.

We collect and make available a broad range of non-fiction books, journals, newspapers, pictures and manuscripts, but few works of fiction other than Australian novels and a selection of prize-winning novels from overseas.  In recent years we have also collected large electronic databases that can be accessed from anywhere in Victoria. Everyone living in Victoria can become a full member of the library and can then access these e-collections from home.

Our collection aims for breadth of coverage. The level (or depth) of our collection sits between a public library and university.

Strengths include:

  • books published in Victoria
  • collections from the 19th and 20th centuries
  • special and heritage collections including maps, pictures, manuscripts and rare books
  • general reference
  • arts
  • humanities

We're not a lending library but your Library membership allows you to access collections within the building, and most online collections from anywhere. Take a look at the Catalogue, Research Guides, and eResources sections of this guide to learn about the best ways to access the Library's vast collection.

History Timeline

  • 3 Jul 1854 Foundation stone laid
  • 11 Feb 1856 Melbourne Public Library opens (central portion of Swanston Street frontage; now Swanston Street Welcome Zone)
  • 24 May 1859 Queen's Reading Room opens (southern portion of Swanston Street frontage; now The Ian Potter Queen's Hall)
  • 24 Dec 1864 Northern portion of Swanston Street frontage opens (now Hansen Hall)
  • 1866 Intercolonial Exhibition buildings erected: Rotunda, Great Hall, iron annexe, north and south wings
  • 1870 Swanston Street portico added
  • 1875 McArthur Gallery opens (now Newspapers and Family History Reading Rooms)
  • 1883 Electric lighting installed
  • 2 Sep 1886 Barry Hall opens (now the Wheeler Centre)
  • Oct 1887 Buvelot Gallery opens (later named Swinburne Hall; now the Arts Reading Room)
  • 1892 McCoy Hall (now Redmond Barry Reading Room), Stawell Gallery (now Cowen Gallery) and La Trobe Gallery (now Victoria Gallery) open
  • 8 Aug 1892 Lending library opens (for a time in Swinburne Hall, now the Arts Reading Room, and also in what is now Mr Tulk cafe)
  • 1899 Great Hall (which Redmond Barry had hoped would last ‘for centuries’) demolished
  • 21 Apr 1906 Baldwin Spencer Hall opens (now Russell Street Welcome Zone)
  • 1908 Rotunda demolished
  • 14 Nov 1913 Domed Reading Room opens (formerly the Great Hall and Rotunda)
  • 1928 October 22 South Rotunda opens
  • 1940 North Rotunda opens
  • 1963 Planetarium opens (now Pauline Gandel Children's Quarter)
  • 6 Sep 1965 La Trobe Library opens (now the Conference Centre)
  • 1968 National Gallery of Victoria relocates to St Kilda Road
  • 27 Feb 1971 Lending library closes
  • 1977 Public Record Office of Victoria leaves 328 Swanston Street
  • 29 Feb 1980 Reference and Information Centre opens on ground floor of Dome building
  • 1995 North-west courtyard glassed in to create new reading room (later the Genealogy Centre, now the Conversation Quarter)
  • 3 Mar 1997 Trescowthick Information Centre opens (now Information Centre); Museum of Victoria closes before moving to Carlton Gardens
  • Jul 1998 Newspaper Reading room opens in glassed-over north-east courtyard (now Ideas Quarter)
  • 2001 Keith Murdoch Gallery opens
  • 2003 Domed Reading Room reopens as La Trobe Reading Room; Experimedia opens in the south-west courtyard (now Pauline Gandel Children's Quarter); Arts Reading Room (now Create Quarter), Cowen Gallery, Redmond Barry Reading Room and Heritage Collections Reading Room open
  • 2017 Vision 2020 redevelopment works begin
  • 21 Sep 2018 Russell Street Welcome Zone (formerly Journals & Magazines Reading Room), Newspaper and Family History Reading Rooms (formerly McArthur Gallery), Arts Reading Room (formerly Swinburne Gallery) and Isabella Fraser Room open
  • 2019 Victoria Gallery (formerly La Trobe Gallery staff space), The Ian Potter Queen's Hall, Swanston Street Welcome Zone, The Quad (formerly Trescowthick Information Centre), Hansen Hall (formerly Palmer Hall), Pauline Gandel Children's Quarter (formerly Experimedia), Conversation Quarter (formerly the Courtyard), Ideas Quarter (formerly the Family History & Newspapers Room) and Create Quarter (formerly the Arts Reading Room) open

Our history

For interesting facts and a detailed history see our State Library of Victoria - history research guide.

Evolution of the site

The library is made up of 23 different buildings on one city block - no wonder it can be confusing to find your way. See how it all fits together.