State Library Victoria - history

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


This section lists books and journal articles which explore the establishment of the Public Library (now State Library of Victoria), Museums and National Gallery. Many of the books  are available online. The most recent book is Harriet Edquist's Building a new world: a history of the State Library of Victoria, 1853-1913 (see box on this page for interim online access). The most comprehensive publication is David McVilly's thesis (online).


Armstrong, Edmund La Touche. The book of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria, 1856-1906. Melbourne, Vic., Trustees of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria, 1906. LTR, SLT & S 027.59451 Ar5B [online]

Written by the Chief Librarian of the time, this book provides a year by year summary of events at the Public Library; including administrative developments, important acquisitions and donations, office-holders, and staff. Also includes biographical information about Sir Redmond Barry, David Charteris McArthur, Sir George Verdon, Hon. Edward Langton, Professor Edward Ellis Moris, Augustus Tulk, Henry Sheffield, Thomas Francis Bride, Michael Francis Dowden, Marcus Clarke, Sir Frederick McCoy, James Cosmo Newbery and George Frederick Folingsby. There are portraits of some of the above-mentioned and a photograph of the Library in 1856. Indexed.

Armstrong, E. La Touche and Boyes, Robert Douglass. The book of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria, 1906-1931. Melbourne, Vic., Trustees of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria, 1932. LTR, SLT & S 027.59451 Ar5BO [online]

Includes staff and trustee lists for 1931. Annual list of highlights of events in the Library from 1906 - 1931; including administrative developments, important acquisitions, staff developments and appointments, and financial matters. Also includes several pages of biographical information about Henry Gyles Turner, Hon. George Swinburne and Sir Baldwin Spencer, all former office-bearers of the institutions.

Edquist, Harriet.  Building a new world: a history of the State Library of Victoria, 1853-1913.
Melbourne, Vic., State Library of Victoria, 2013 [online]
NOTE: The access conditions for this resource have changed. See box at right for pdf access.

         Published to celebrate the centenary of the Domed Reading Room in 2013.

McCallum, C. A. The Public Library of Victoria, 1856-1956. Melbourne, Vic., [The Library], 1956. LTR, SLT & S 027.5945 P96P [online]

Published on the occasion of the Library's centenary, this book includes several pages on each of the major aspects in the history of the State Library including the foundation, the building, the reference library, the archives, the lending services, the training school, the trustees, the staff and the readers. Also an illustration and brief description of 50 of the important works in the Library.

McVilly, David. A history of the State Library of Victoria, 1853-1974. Thesis (M.A.). Clayton, Vic., Monash University, 1975. LTR & SLTF 027.5945 M25H [online]

A scholarly history. Offers an independent viewpoint to the official histories. Includes a list of Chief Librarians from 1856-1974, chapters on the foundation years 1853-1856, Redmond Barry and the acquisitions policy 1853-1880, an analysis of the accounts of contemporary visitors and users of the Library 1856-1880 and management of the Library for the years 1853-1895. Examines the legacy of Edmund La Touche Armstrong and the ideas of E. Morris Miller, the Lending services for the period 1859-1931, the librarianship of Pitt and the Free Library movement from 1925-1947 as well as the deterioration of the library during the period 1945-1963. Includes a chapter on the Library Council of Victoria.

Ramsey, Margery. ‘Concept of a library: the Melbourne Public Library'. In Elizabeth Morrison & Michael Talbot eds. Books, libraries and readers in colonial Australia: papers from the Forum on Australian Colonial Library History. Clayton, Vic., Ancora Press, 1985, pp.22-28. SLT 027.494 F77M

Traces the origins of the concept of the Melbourne Public Library. Mention is made of the British Report of the Select Committee on Public Libraries, 1849, and the British 1850 Public Library's Act.

Roberts, Bev Treasures of the State Library of Victoria  Bondi Junction, N.S.W. : Focus Publishing, c.2003

Published to celebrate the Library's 150th anniversary. Contains extensive illustrations, many in colour.

Stam, David H. (ed.) International dictionary of library histories. London, Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001, vol.2, pp.724-6.

Journal articles

Benson, C. Irving. ‘Libraries came first 100 years ago'. The age, 11 February 1956, p.2. Family History & Newspaper Room

Article by Dr. C. Irving Benson, Chairman of the Trustees of the Public Library, written on the occasion of the Library's Centenary.

Dunstan, David. ‘True civilisation: the establishment of the Melbourne Public Library'. Victorian historical journal. Vol.58, no.2, June 1987, pp.36-40. LT 994.5005 V66

Includes a reproduction in full of an editorial ‘The Public Library' in The age, 12 February 1856.

‘The Library'. Australian magazine. Vol.1, 1859, pp.119-124. S 370.4 ED8 (v.19)

Examines the progress of the Library in its first three years. A reprint of Redmond Barry's address presented by the Trustees on the opening of the Queen's Reading Room.

McCallum, C. A. ‘History of the Public Library of Victoria'. Australian library journal. October 1959, pp.188-96. YA 020.5 AU7

Franklyn. H. M. ‘The Melbourne Public Library'. Macmillan's magazine. Vol. 45, 1881/1882, pp. 376-381. YA 052 M22

An account of the establishment of the Library.

Pitt, Ernest R. ‘The Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria'. In Centenary journal, 1934-1935. Souvenir ed. Melbourne, Collinson, 1934, pp. 7-70, & 155. LT & SLT 919.45 C33

A succinct account of the establishment of the Public Library, with references to Redmond Barry, the Newspaper Room, the Lending Library, Historical Collection, National Museum, the Technological Museum and the National Gallery. Includes brief reference to the establishment of the Coin Room in 1925. Ernest Pitt acknowledges Edmund La Touche Armstrong and R. D. Boy's publication The book of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria, 1856-1906, as the major source for this compilation.

Public Library, Museum and National Gallery (Vic.). Newspaper cuttings relating to the Public Library, Museum and National Gallery of Victoria [microform] Melbourne, Vic., Library Council of Victoria, 1987. LTM 92

Newspaper cuttings and journal extracts relating to the Library, Museum and National Gallery of Victoria, covering the years 1853 to 1947. Arranged chronologically year by year, these cuttings provide a wealth of information about many aspects of the Library, its collections and buildings.

Reel 1: vol. 1-4 1853-1896
Reel 2: vol. 5-8 1897-1918
Reel 3: vol. 9-12 July 1924-1930
Reel 4: vol. 13-14 Sept. 1930-July 1932
Reel 5: vol. 15 Jan. 1934-May 1938,
Reel 5 vol. 16 Nov. 1938-Jan. 1947
Reel 5 vol. 17 1877-1880
Reel 5 vol. 18 1922-1927
Reel 5 vol. 19 1861-1927

A library in peril (1989)

Lewis, M. (1989). A library in peril : a report to the government and community of Victoria / [editor Miles Lewis]. Melbourne: State Library Development Council.

This publication outlined the parlous state of the Library in the late 1980s and was a catalyst for the vast renovations and state of the art storage that has been achieved subsequently.

For online access to A library in peril see the pdf copy below.

Building a new world