Primitive men slept in caves, drank water from rivulets and fought with animals for existence and food; their needs were rudimentary and their dreams were confined. But through the evolution cycle, humans realised that muscle power alone will not offer him a secure and satisfied life but intellectual power and the ability to gather, decipher and manage information was paramount to their basic needs and well-being. The quest for information and knowledge and the need to access the same as and when it is required geminated the early seeds of knowledge repositories which later developed into libraries.
The history of libraries can be traced back to as early as 2500 BC where records were kept on stone and clay tablets. What started off as a private collection of records by elites soon made way for a centralised repository for storing and accessing information. The Egyptians made great contributions to the conceptualisation of libraries by setting up one of the greatest libraries of ancient world, the Library of Alexandria. Over the years, libraries have undergone enormous changes in its form, content, appearance and display from the ancient Egyptian papyrus to the 21st century digital libraries.
The initiative by Reverend Samuel Marsden in 1809 aimed at establishing a ‘Lending Library for the general benefit of the inhabitants of New South Wales’ marked the beginning of library services in Australia. The opening of Melbourne Public Library in 1856 by the Victorian colonial government was a significant moment in the annals of Australian bibliotheca history.
Since then, libraries have become an integral part of Melbourne- its people and culture. Listed as one of the cities of literature by UNESCO, Melbourne currently is home to some of the greatest libraries in Australia. The numerous libraries spanned across the CBD, suburbs and municipal councils are temples of study, literature, reference, literary festivals and melting pots of cultural diversity.
Here is a short compilation of the libraries in Melbourne city.
1) State Library of Victoria
2) Melbourne Library Service (City Library, East Melbourne Library, North Melbourne Library, South Bank Library at Boyd)
3) Melbourne Athenaeum Library
4) Yarra Libraries (Carlton, Collingwood, Fitzroy, North Fitzroy and Richmond)
5) Port Phillip Library Service (Albert Park, Emerald Hill, Middle Park, Port Melbourne, St Kilda)
6) The University of Melbourne Library (Baillieu Library)
7) Monash University Library
State Library of Victoria
The State Library of Victoria established in 1856 as Melbourne Public Library is an iconic landmark in the city of Melbourne and is one of the preeminent libraries in the world. With over 2.5 million books and tens and thousands of electronic resources, the library has been a seat of learning and research for decades and a hub for many national and international literary events and festivals.From the green lawns to the dome shaped reading rooms to the gallery, a visit to the State Library has inspired and sparked countless creative ideas and continues to ignite human minds from every walk of life – be it arts, science, engineering, literature, economics, medicine or fashion, to name a few.
State Library of Victoria
A visitor to the library is greeted by the lush green lawns sprawling in front of the heritage architecture and is studded with numerous statues including that of Sir Redmond Barry who instigated the idea of a public library and Charles La Trobe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Victoria.
Sir Redmond Barry Statue La Trobe Statue
As you enter the library through the grand portico, one can see the Keith Murdoch gallery, on the right, which showcases exhibitions on various themes and subjects. Currently, the gallery is featuring an exhibition on the culinary history of Victoria named ‘Gusto!’.
Keith Murdoch Gallery
A welcoming and friendly group of library staff at the information centre is always willing to help you with any information or resources you seek. I had a chance to speak to some of the staff about the new developments and events in the library and also about the opportunities and challenges posed by digital revolution on libraries. The library is collaborating with National and State Libraries Australasia (NSLA) under the ‘Reimaging Libraries’ plan in integrating more and more electronic resources as part of a digital world and is also promoting more participation from the local citizens in shaping the cultural and intellectual life of the society.The library is constantly increasing its budget allocation for acquiring and storing electronic resources. While the internet has enabled the library in establishing better communication and providing access from home to the public, the ever changing digital landscape is throwing challenges with respect to licensing and adoption of new technologies.
Redmond Barry Reading Room
Cowen Gallery Victorian Painting
The Cowen gallery which showcases the Victorian paintings leads us to the La Trobe Reading room and its dome. Opened in 1913, it’s an architectural splendour and was the largest of its kind in the world back then. The octagonal structure is six storied and can lodge 32,000 books while the study desks, elongating from the centre which constitutes for a unique design, can accommodate 320 readers at any given time. The dome is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2013
La Trobe Reading Room
The State Library also provides avenues for games and recreation. Chess room which houses tables with chess boards is popular among the young and the old.
Whether you are a regular visitor or a casual traveller, a visit to the library is an enriching experience. As I climbed down the marble staircases, the words of Mark Twain resonated with me “In a good book room you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”