The history of the State Library of Victoria

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

Architectural drawings

For a list of the architects responsible for the design of the buildings, visit the Architecture page of this guide.

There are three main repositories for architects' working drawings of Library buildings: the Public Record Office Victoria, which holds the most comprehensive collection, the State Library's Pictures Collection, which holds some original drawings and many copies, and the University of Melbourne Archives.

The architect is normally the owner of architectural drawings. Copies are made for the tenderers, the builder, the clerk of works and the client. The client for Library architectural drawings is the Government and the Trustees of the Melbourne Public Library. Copies of these drawings are held in the Pictures Collection and at the Public Record Office Victoria. The University of Melbourne Archives holds the architects' copies of these drawings.

The builder would have held one of the two sets of signed contract drawings, and the Government, as client would have the other. James Metcalfe was the builder for the 1850s-1860s building but unfortunately the location of these drawings is unknown.

Quick access to building plans

You can download basic plans, showing the various buildings that make up the Library, below. The 2020 plan shows the anticipated layout of the Library at the completion of the Vision 2020 redevelopment.

The 2009 Conservation management plan, undertaken by the architects and heritage consultants Lovell Chen, includes outlines of the Library showing stages of construction over the years. This can be viewed online (see Volume 1, page 51).

For access to photocopied plans of the Library, ask information desk staff for the file ‘State Library of Victoria. Drawings. Master plan'. This file is currently held at the information desk in the Information Centre (Level 2). The file contains copies of the 1995 plans by the City Projects Unit of the City of Melbourne for landscaping works to the forecourt, and copies of the 1998 and 2001 master plans by the architects responsible for the redevelopment, Ancher, Mortlock and Woolley, showing levels 1 to 6 of the Library buildings.

Quick access to historic architectural drawings

Many of the historic architectural drawings of the Library held in the Library's Pictures Collection have been digitised and can be viewed online.

Public Record Office Victoria

The Public Record Office Victoria holds the most complete collection of architectural drawings of State Library buildings available. These drawings cover the years 1879 to 1964.

The Public Record Office is the official repository for state government documents, including architectural drawings for government buildings in Victoria. As a public building, the Library in due course came under the control of the Public Works Department. All records relating to the Public Works Department are held by the Public Record Office.

Pictures Collection

An incomplete collection of 120 drawings of State Library, Museum and National Gallery buildings, from 1853 to 1978, is held in the State Library's Pictures Collection. If you visit the catalogue record for this collection and click the link to 'Other items in this collection', you will be able to access high resolution digitised copies of many of the drawings online.

The Public Library Museums and National Galleries of Victoria.
New Reading Room and Stack Rooms Etc [Section A B of the Domed Reading Room], H2010.69/58

This collection includes both original drawings and copies. Ask staff at the La Trobe Information Centre desk for access to an inventory titled 'Drawings of State Library Buildings located in the Picture Collection', compiled by Mary Turner Shaw in 1988.

There is also a small collection of drawings done in 1926 for the competition to join up the western Library buildings and the eastern Gallery and Museum block.

As well there is a small collection of sketch designs for the La Trobe Library from 1950 to 1985, by the Victorian Public Works Department Chief Architect, Percy Everett. These drawings include one original perspective view and five copies of floor plans.

Accessing drawings held in the Pictures Collection

It takes up to 48 hours (weekdays) for some collections to be retrieved from storage (i.e. order Wednesday for delivery Friday). A week's notice may be required for material housed off-site. Consult staff at the La Trobe Reading Room information desk or phone 03 8664 7009 for assistance, or to place an order. Note: drawings that are already available to view in high resolution via our online catalogue generally cannot be retrieved for viewing.

Viewing drawings

After ordering, the drawings are viewed in the Heritage Collections Reading Room.

Making copies of drawings

Note that many historic drawings are already available to view and download in high resolution for free via our online catalogue.

You may be able to make your own copies of original drawings with a digital camera, depending on the condition and format of the material. Ask staff for advice.

If a drawing has not been digitised, staff can usually arrange for high resolution digital copies to be made, and will give advice about the costs involved. Turnaround time is 15 working days.

University of Melbourne Archives

Most of the earlier architectural drawings of the State Library buildings can be found in the archive of the architectural firm, Bates, Smart and McCutcheon, a descendant firm of the original architect, Joseph Reed.

Since 1862 the firm has been run as a partnership incorporating these architects in various combinations:

Reed (1862-1890)

Frederick Barnes (1862-1883)

A.M. Henderson (1883-1890)

F.J. Smart (1883-1907)

W.B. Tappin (1890-1905)

N.B. Peebles (1907-1922)

C.P. Smart (1907-1950)

E.A. Bates (1907-1931)

Osborne McCutcheon (1926- ).

Search the University of Melbourne Archives for the Bates, Smart and McCutcheon archive, 1879-1964.