State Library Victoria - history

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


This page covers:

  • collection treasures
  • collection development policies, and analysis of these policies
  • major acquisitions
  • the Library's first printed book catalogues
  • the Travelling Library Scheme

Collection treasures

These resources highlight the Library's collection treasures:

Aitken, Richard. The art of the collection. Melbourne, Miegunyah Press in association with the State Library of Victoria, 2007

Before Felton this website provides a comprehensive overview of the art collections acquired by the State Library and National Gallery of Victoria prior to 1904.

Cowley, Des and Williamson, Clare. The world of the book. Carlton, Melbourne University Publishing, 2007. LTF and B 002 C83W

Glover, Anne. Victorian treasures from the La Trobe Collection. South Melbourne, Macmillan, 1980. LTF and LTR 708.99451 G51V

McCallum, C. A. The Public Library of Victoria, 1856-1956. Melbourne, Vic., [The Library], 1956, [online]. See appendix 'Fifty works of outstanding interest'. LTR and B 027.5945 P96P

Mirror of the world. This website was inspired by the Library's onsite permanent exhibition of the same name. Both draw on the wealth of material in the State Library of Victoria's collection of rare books. This website is no longer live - this link leads to copy of the site stored on the Internet Archive. Some features of the website are no longer available.

O'Conor, Juliet. Bottersnikes and other lost things : a celebration of Australian illustrated children's books. Melbourne, State Library of Victoria, Carlton, Vic., Miegunyah Press, 2009

You can find more books about significant Library collections, published in collaboration with Miegunyah Press, on the catalogue.


This section lists some of the Library's first printed book catalogues and are arranged chronologically by date of publication.

The catalogues record the Library's holdings at the date of publication, for the years 1856 to 1990. Included are the early printed catalogues supplied by the English bookseller Guillaume in the 1850s.

Catalogues of books and periodicals are listed, and include books added to the Lending Library, the accession book for the years 1947 to 1962 and publications received under legal deposit for the years 1977 to 1983.

Catalogue of the Public Library Melbourne, Victoria. Part I. London, J.J. Guillaume, 1854. Online, or at RARE P018.1 V66C

Melbourne Public Library. Catalogue of books recently added to the Public Library, Melbourne, Victoria. London, J.J. Guillaume, F. Guillaume, 1857-1860. RARE 018.1 V66CAT (incomplete)

Melbourne Public Library. The catalogue of the Melbourne Public Library for 1861. [Melbourne,
Vic.], Printed for the Trustees by Clarson, Shallard & Co., [1862?]. RARELT 018.1 M48C

Melbourne Public Library. The supplemental catalogue of the Melbourne Public Library for 1865. Melbourne, J. Ferres, Govt. Printer, 1865. This is a presentation copy from the Library to E.L. Bateman Esq. RARELTF 018.1 M48S

Public Library, Museums and National Gallery (Vic.) Donations presented to the Melbourne Public Library during the years 1865-66. [Melbourne? : s.n., 1867?] RAREF 010.4 B47 (V. 201) & (V. 215)

Arranged by name of donor. Includes (pp. 21-22) Donations to the Museum of Art during the years 1895-66.

Public Library of Victoria. Catalogue of donations to the Public LibraryMelbourne, Vic., Clarson Massina, 1873.

Public Library, Museums and National Gallery (Vic.). The catalogue of the Public Library of Victoria. Melbourne, Vic., Fergusson and Moore, Printers, 1880. S 018.1 V66C

Public Library, Museums and National Gallery (Vic.) Catalogue of books added to the Lending Library from September 1st, 1892, to April 1st, 1893. Printed for the Trustees of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria by Mason, Firth & McCutcheon, 1893. SF 010.4 B47 (V. 197)

Inside cover: "The first catalogue of the Lending Library was published in August, 1892. The first catalogue and the present one contain the whole of the books in the library on the 1st April, 1893."

Public Library, Museums and National Gallery (Vic.). Catalogue of the Lending Library. 2nd ed. Melbourne, Printed for the Trustees by Mason, Firth & M'Cutcheon, 1894. SLT 019.1 V665SL

Public Library, Museums and National Gallery (Vic.). Catalogue of books added to the Lending Library . Melbourne, Robt. S. Brain, Govt. Printer, 1896-1898. SLT 019.1 V665SL

Public Library, Museums and National Gallery (Vic.). Catalogue of the Public Lending Library. Melbourne, Vic., Government Printer, 1902. SLT 019.1 V665SL

Victoria. State Library. Melbourne. Catalogue of current periodicals received at the Public Library. Melbourne, 1905. RARE 018.1 V66CN

Public Library of Victoria. Recent additions to Lending library. [Melbourne, Vic., Government. Printer]
1923:Jul. - 1930:Sep.  RARE 018.1 V66CN
1930:Dec. - 1958:Jan. PER 010.5 V66R
1961:Mar, 1963:Mar    PER 010.5 V66R

Title changed after 1930 to Recent additions (Public Library Victoria). Title changed after 1958 to: Recent additions (State Library of Victoria. Lending Branch). Ceased 1963.

Public Library, Museums and National Gallery (Vic.) . A catalogue of English books and fragments from 1477 to 1535 in the Public Library of Victoria by Albert Broadbent Foxcroft, with preface by Ernest R. Pitt. Melbourne, The Library, 1933. SLT & S 016.093 V66C

Public Library, Museums and National Gallery (Vic.). Classified catalogue of Australiana in the Public Lending Library of Victoria by T. Fleming Cooke; with preface by Ernest R. Pitt. Melbourne, Vic., The Library, 1936. SLT 016.994 V66

The list is classified in Dewey Decimal order and includes Australian fiction, biography, history and travel.

Public Library, Museums and National Gallery (Vic.). Catalogue of fifteenth century books and fragments in the Public Library of Victoria compiled by Albert Broadbent Foxcroft with preface by Ernest R. Pitt. Melbourne, Trustees of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne, Vic., Brown, Prior & Co.), 1936. RARES 016.093 V66C

Public Library of Victoria. Accession book of the Public Library of Victoria [microform] Public Library of Victoria. LTM 127

Reel 1. 1947-1949, Reel 2. 1949-1951, Reel 3. 1951-1953, Reel 4. 1953-1955, Reel 5. 955-1956, Reel 6. 1956-1959, Reel 7. 1959-1960, Reel 8. 1960-1962.

State Library of Victoria. Legal deposit Victoria. Melbourne, Vic., State Library of Victoria,
1960-[1983] SF & YAF 015.945 V66L

List of publications received by the State Library of Victoria under legal deposit.

State Library of Victoria. Research service bibliographies. Melbourne, Vic., State Library of Victoria, 1965-1967. RR 016 V66

Began with no. 1 of 1965, ceased in 1967. Each issue has a distinctive title.

State Library of Victoria. Reference and Research Section. Current awareness bulletin. Vol.1:No.1 (1984:Sep) - Vol.7:No.11/12 (1990:Nov/Dec). PER 016.02 C93S

The Travelling Library

The Library operated the Travelling Library Scheme from 1860-1965. Cases of books were circulated to libraries and mechanics institutes across Victoria. For more information see:

Pam Baragwanath and Ken James, Ubiquitous and necessary: Australia’s mechanics institutes and schools of arts etc: a research guide, 2016, available online and in print.

Brian Hubber, 'Leading by example: Barry in the Library', La Trobe Journal, No 73, Autumn 2004, available online.

Redmond Barry, 'On lending libraries', in Two papers read by Sir Redmond Barry, at the Conference of Librarians, held at The London Institution, October, 1877, pp11-15, available online.

Collection facts

Oldest written collection item
Cuneiform tablet, c2050BC

Oldest book
Boethius' De musica, a late 10th century manuscript

Oldest manuscript
A grant of land from Simon de belle Campo (Beauchamp) to Warden Abbey, circa 1160-1180, in the Manners-Sutton family papers

Tallest book
Description de l'Egypte measures 111 cm x 71 cm

Tiny books
Volumes of the Midget library measure 19 mm high

Unusual collection items

Collection development

The Library's first official written collection development policy was published in 1986. It gave guidelines to staff about selection and acquistion of material for the Library's collections.

Earlier selection 'policies' or intentions can be found in annual reports and Redmond Barry's papers located in the Australian Manuscripts Collection. McVilly's articles (listed below) examine the acquisition policy for the years 1853 to 1880, through the addresses, letters and reports of the Trustees, and also examine the early book catalogues.


Collection development policies

Early book purchases in the Melbourne Public Library: Redmond Barry's instructions to the Agent-General, December 3rd 1853 with an introduction by Richard Overall. Clayton, Vic., Monash University, Ancora Press, 1997.  SLT 025.21874 E7B

State Library of Victoria. Selection policy. Melbourne, Library Council of Victoria, 1986. SLT, R & S 025.2187594 ST2S

Collection development policies published from 1992 can be found via our catalogue.

The current policy is published on the Library website.


Analysis of the Library's collecting policies

Barton, G. B. The Public Library. Victorian review. Vol.3, 1881, pp.370-376. SLT 052.94 V66R

A review of the Public Library's collections.

McVilly, David. Acquisitions policy of the State Library of Victoria 1853-1880, La Trobe Library journal. No. 7, April 1971, pp.57-63.  LT 994.005 LA3

Account of the foundation acquisition policy of the Public Library of Victoria and Redmond Barry's influence.

McVilly, David. Something to blow about? - The State Library of Victoria, 1856-1880, La Trobe Library journal. Vol. 2, no. 8, Oct. 1971, pp. 81-83. LT 994.005 LA3

This article discusses the acquisition policy.

The Public Library. Imperial review. Vol.1, no. 7, 1879/1882, pp. 59-63. LTM 54

A critical assessment of the Library's Collections in the 1880s.


Major acquisitions and collections

See annual reports for details of purchases made annually. Major acquisitions are often mentioned by name.

Collection managers often wrote short articles about significant acquisitions for the State Library of Victoria News (SLV News) (published from 1997 to 2014).

The La Trobe Journal, published by the State Library of Victoria Foundation, contains a wide range of scholarly articles on specific Library collections. Full text is available online from 1968, the first issue.

For information about important material presented, acquired or produced in the foundation decades, see:

Overell, R. The Melbourne Public Library and the Guillaumes.

Barry's "Great Emporium"... [Melbourne, Vic.], Library Council of Victoria, [1981].