The history of the State Library of Victoria

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

Introduction

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. In 1869 the Library Museums and National Gallery Act 1869 (no. 357) incorporated the Library with the Museums and the National Gallery. In 1944 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.

Museum Victoria

After the government allocated £2,000 for the establishment of a natural history museum in 1854, colonial naturalist William Blandowski was put in charge of a small zoological collection in the Crown Lands Office.

In 1856 Sir Frederick McCoy transferred the collection to the University where it remained until 1899. In 1869 the Museum was brought under the control of the Trustees of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria.

New buildings for the National Museum on the Russell Street frontage were opened in 1906. They included what became known as the Baldwin Spencer Hall.

On 13 July 1997 the Museum of Victoria closed its Swanston Street site to prepare for its relocation. On 21 October  2000, the new Melbourne Museum was officially opened by Premier Steve Bracks, beside the historic Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens.

Museum sources

 Pescott, R T M, 1954, Collections of a century: the history of the first hundred years of the National Museum of Victoria, National Museum of Victoria 

 Centennial history of the National Museum. Includes list of Museum staff.

 Pescott, R T M,  1949, Report of the Director, National Museum of Victoria, on his visit abroad during June to December, 1948 : together with recommendations for the future development of the National Museum of Victoria while it occupies its present site, National Museum of Victoria

 Covers the Industrial and Technological Museum 1870-1945, Museum of Applied Science 1945-1961 and the Institute of Applied Science of Victoria 1961-1970.

National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)

The Gallery was established in 1859 when Parliament voted for £2000 to be used for the purchase of plaster casts of sculpture. The first objects purchased were displayed in the gallery which opened in the lower floor of the south wing of the Swanston Street section of the Public Library on 24 May 1861.

The McArthur Gallery, completed in 1874 and opened on 24 May 1875, was the first gallery purpose built for paintings.The McArthur Gallery now houses the Library's Rare Printed Collections.

The Buvelot Gallery (later named Swinburne Hall and now housing the Picture Collection) and the Painting School studios followed in 1887, and the Stawell (now Cowen) and La Trobe (now houses the Australian Manuscripts Collection) Galleries in 1892.

The National Gallery of Victoria relocated to St. Kilda Road in the summer of 1967-1968.

On 16 November 1999 the National Gallery opened an annex location, called 'NGV on Russell", at the State Library while the St Kilda Road gallery was undergoing renovations. It occupied the areas that were later developed as the Magazine Room, Redmond Barry Reading Room, Manuscripts, Pictures and Rare Printed Collections. The entrance was from Russell Street. This annex closed on 30 June 2002. 

Gallery sources

Cox, Leonard B, 1970, The National Gallery of Victoria 1861 to 1968: a search for a collection, National Gallery of Victoria  

McVilly, David, 1975, A history of the State Library of Victoria, 1853-1974 [manuscript] pp 22-26

This work includes a potted history of the establishment of the National Gallery of Victoria.

Public Record Office Victoria (PROV)

The Public Record Office was once the Archives Department of the Library, occupying part of the Swanston Street site. The Archives branch was formally established within the Public Library of Victoria in 1955. From 1965 it was housed in the La Trobe Library basements. 

In 1973 the Public Records Act established the Public Record Office as the state's archive authority, independent of the Library Council.  The Office moved offsite in 1977. 

PROV sources

Russell, E W, 2003, A matter of record: a history of Public Record Office Victoria, Public Record Office, North Melbourne