The history of the State Library of Victoria

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

Staff numbers

The number of staff employed by the Library can be found in annual reports. Until the 1980s, lists of positions/roles were published in the public service lists.

Staff newsletters

Staff newsletters frequently include interviews with staff, and news about appointments and staff projects. Some newsletters also include photographs:

Intercom (1968-1981)

Update (1982-1987)

Update (1988-1990)

Staff Bulletin (1989-1996)

STAC Talk (1994-1995)

New Look Newsletter (1997)

STAC Talk (1996-1997)

The Grapevine (1997-2002)

Check It Out (1997-2000)

The Source (2002-2006)

News from The Fridge: a year in the working life of the State Library of Victoria: November 2006 - December 2007
The Fridge was a desktop app for Library staff PCs, designed as a replacement for The Source staff newsletter. It featured many staff profiles and interviews. The Fridge app was subsequently replaced by an intranet site, also called The Fridge. The intranet no longer features staff interviews.

In 2018, staff created a zine called 'The Goat'. This title was inspired by Frederick McCubbin's 1884 oil painting Melbourne gaol in sunlight from the Public Library grounds, which shows a goat tethered in the grounds of the Melbourne Public Library, on the site of the former La Trobe Library building.

Women's work

The first female Library staff member listed on the public service lists is Isabella Fraser. Fraser was born in Ballarat in 1881, and died in Kew in 1969. She started working at the Library in 1908. She was first appointed as an Assistant in 1924. She 'assist[ed] in Library, cataloguing etc'. She was probably undertaking librarian or library technician duties in her role as Assistant, but was not a librarian by title. By 1931 she held a Bachelor of Arts qualification (see The book of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria, 1906-1931). Named in her honour, the Library's Isabella Fraser Room opened in September 2018.

Detail from black and white Public LIbrary of Victoria staff portrait, taken in the early 1930s, showing Isabella Fraser

Detail from [Library staff, State Library of Victoria], 1932, H82.139/4, showing Isabella Fraser (centre).

For many decades, women interested in working at the Library faced discriminatory legislation.

In 1883 the Public Service Act (Victoria) 'laid down discriminatory regulations preventing women's promotion' (source).

In 1890 the Public Service Act No. 1133 Section 43, Victoria 'made married women ineligible for appointment to the Public Service. Retirement compulsory on marriage (after passing of Act). Married women were retrenched during depression of 1890's and lost permancy rights of employment in the Public Service' (source).

In the 1890s 'women [were] first admitted to the Victorian Public Service as receptionists and clerks, but not for other grades' (source).

Women were not allowed to become full librarians in Victoria until 1926 when the Women's Qualification Act 1926 was passed. (See  Girl librarians The Herald  December 11, 1926 p. 20. ) It was noted at the time that the salaries for such a position requiring a university qualification were very poor.

Fraser was still an Assistant in 1941. By 1955 the Library had lots of female Librarians (several of these women had been Assistants, but now had their job titles changed to Librarian). Fraser is not on the 1955 staff lists, so it appears she left the Library in or before 1955.

In his talk Sex, lies and politics, public library funding futures (presented at the Building bridges to knowledge conference of the Queensland Public Libraries Association, Ipswich, Queensland, 17 September 2007), Dr Alan Bundy quotes The Bulletin of 1 March 1917:

'For various reasons, the elderly fathers of the Melbourne Public Library do not employ women except to scrub floors. There are a good many jobs at the library…Much of the work consists in sitting down and waiting for somebody to turn up and ask for something; and a woman could almost do that. The time seems right to give her a chance. In neither war nor peace can we any longer afford to waste men in unproductive jobs. If the new arrivals at the library are nice things in clean pinnies, so much the better…'

It appears that our colleagues in New South Wales had a rather more enlightened view of the employment of women in libraries.

State Librarians and Chief Executive Officers

1856-1873 Augustus Henry Tulk
1873-1881 Henry Sheffield
1881-1895 Thomas Francis Bride, LL.D.
1895-1896 Michael Francis Dowden, LL.B.
1896-1925 Edmund La Touche Armstrong, M.A., LL.B.
1925-1931 Robert Douglass Boys, B.A.
1931-1943 Ernest Roland Pitt, B.A.
1943-1944 Thomas Fleming Cooke, B.A.
1944-1945 William Charles Baud, B.A.
1945-1960 Colin Alexander McCallum, O.B.E., B.A.
1960-1965 John Andrew Feely, B.Sc.
1965-1967 Thomas Arthur Kealy, B.A. (acting)
1967-1981 Kenneth Horn, B.A., Mus.B., Dip.N.Z.L.S.
1982-1985 Warren Horton, B.A.
1986-1989 Jane La Scala, B.SocSc.
1989-1993 Leah Mann, B.A., Dip.Soc.St.
1993 Derek Whitehead OAM, BA (Hons), BD (Hons) MLib, GradDipLib
1993-1997 Helen Tait, B.A., Dip.N.Z.L.S.
1997 (Acting) Derek Whitehead OAM, BA (Hons), BD (Hons) MLib, GradDipLib
1997-2002 Frances Awcock, B.A., Dip.Lib.
2003-2012 Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, BA (Hons), Dip Info Management - Archives Administration
2012 (Acting) Sue Hamilton
2012-2015 Sue Roberts, BA (Hons), PGDipLib, MA
2015 (Acting) Justine Hyde
2015- Kate Torney, B. Communications

Sources

From the 1850s to the 1980s, details of professional and paraprofessional staff (name, job title, date commenced current role, date commenced work in the public service, and often wage and date of birth) were listed in the public service lists.

State librarians and managers may be mentioned in published histories of the Library.

Senior staff are often mentioned in the State Library of Victoria News (SLV News) (1997-2014). Most articles in this publication were written by staff. It includes many photographs.

The La Trobe Journal (1968-), published by the State Library of Victoria Foundation, contains articles written by staff, and some staff obituaries. Special issue No 101 March 2018 includes memoirs by:

  • Edmund La Touche Armstrong, Chief Librarian from 1896 to 1925
  • Leigh Scott, who worked at the Public Library of Victoria from 1908 to 1926
  • Colin McCallum, who joined the Library as a junior in 1919 and later became Chief Librarian, retiring in 1960
  • Dianne Reilly, whose career at the Library spanned nearly 50 years from her commencement as a junior in 1959 to her retirement as La Trobe Librarian in 2008.

David McVilly's manuscript The culture and people of the State Library of Victoria, 1966-1970 is a useful source of information, as are the memoirs of Leone Mills (worked at the Library 1945-1982), and Mary O'Conor (worked at the Library 1927-1965).

The reminiscences of the Library's last residential caretaker, George Swain, are held in the Library's Manuscripts Collection. 

Several articles have been written about the life and work of Margaret Ingham (1910–99). She established the Children's Literature Research Collection at the Library, and also survived 52 days afloat in a lifeboat during World War II.

Tradesmen

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. A transcript of the names on the list can be downloaded: