State Library Victoria - history

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


Queens Hall H3679  b28363

The central portion of the Queen's Hall, and the foyer below, formed the original building of the Melbourne Public Library, which opened in 1856.

The Queen's Hall (south wing) was opened on Queen Victoria's birthday on 24 May 1859, and named 'The Queen's Reading Room'. A north wing was added in 1864, creating a vast hall that could accommodate a reading room, collection holdings and painting displays.

In 1860 the Library was refurbished with designs by Edward Latrobe Bateman. His Greek themed stencils, still visible in 1900 but was painted over in 1905 (see page 89 of the Book of the Library 1856-1906).

The gas lighting was replaced by electricity in April 1883.  See page 28 of the Royal Commission Appointed to Inquire into and Report Upon the Best Means of Ventilating and Lighting the Legislative Assembly Chamber for Thomas Bride's comments on the efficacy and cost of electricity.

On 14 November 1901, the skylights in Queens Hall were smashed during a fierce hailstorm.

When the Domed Reading Room was completed in 1913, the Queen's Hall was used by the Museum of Victoria until the 1970s. Renovations to Queen's Hall were made during 1973-1975. The changes included redecoration of the ornate ceiling, refurbishment of the original furniture, improved lighting and the covering of the original skylights with decorative panels. In 1976 it reopened as the Art, Music and Performing Arts Library in 1976, and remained the Arts Library until 2003.

From 2003 to 2019 Queen's Hall was closed to the public, except for occasional special events. In 2015 the Library embarked on a five-year redevelopment funded by a $55.4 million budget allocation from the Victorian Government and $28 million in philanthropic contributions. A key outcome of the redevelopment project was the restoration of Queen’s Hall as a public reading room. The space reopened to the public on 5 December 2019, as the Ian Potter Queen's Hall. It is open to the public each day from 10am until 5pm. 

The Ian Potter Queen's Hall holds the Library's open access chess and bridge collections, and chess boards for informal games. There is also an open access collection of Australian fiction in both English and in translation, in a variety of languages. 

The entry (stairway) to Queen's Hall features murals painted in 1923 and 1929.


Barry, Redmond, Sir, 1866 Address to the workmen employed in building the great hall of the Melbourne Public Library and Museum delivered Saturday Sept 8, 1866, Wilson & Mackinnon, Melbourne.

Barry's speech to the workmen building the Library's great hall, described other great halls overseas, gives dimensions and compares them the Melbourne Public Library.

Edwards, Jean, 29 April 2015, State Library of Victoria to receive $83 million facelift, including rooftop terrace, ABC News [online]

The Herald, 19 November 1860, p 6, Family History & Newspaper Room - on microfilm.

Report of the Queen's Reading Room recently redecorated, and the arrival of sculpture.

Melbourne, Vic., Libraries. State Library of Victoria', Local History File - check with staff at the Ask a Librarian desk.

Contains, amongst other material, a one page chronology of important dates associated with the construction of Queen's Hall.

Puvanenthiran, Bhakthi, 29 April 2015, State Library of Victoria to get e-town hall in $83.1 million revamp, The Age [online]

Ramsay, Margery, October 1975, ‘Relocation of services in the State Library', La Trobe Library journal, vol 4, no 16, pp 101-102 [online]

Description of a major relocation programme to use additional space provided by the Public Record Office Victoria's move to Laverton. Discusses the rehousing and development of the Arts Library collections in Queen's Hall.

State Library of Victoria, [1995] The Queen's Hall and the murals : historical notes

Brief history of the Queen's Hall and the murals.

A little history of Queen's Hall

The redevelopment of The Ian Potter Queen's Hall

Ladies Reading Room

For details on the proposed ladies reading room see our blog and video -  Dedicated to the ladies.


In 1862 Redmond Barry compiled a list of the workmen employed on building the north wing of Queen’s Hall. The list is housed in the Library's Manuscripts Collection at MS13020 Box 5 Folder 1. Sample images can be viewed on Page 33 of Building a new world: a history of the State Library of Victoria. A transcript of the names on the list can be downloaded: