Today State Library Victoria celebrates 160 years since first opening to the public on 11 February 1856.

State Library Victoria is Australia’s oldest free public library and the nation’s busiest with nearly 1.8 million visitors a year – more than the Library of Congress in Washington.

Originally called the Melbourne Public Library, State Library Victoria, has been home to some of Melbourne’s great institutions including the National Gallery of Victoria and Museum Victoria and has long been an engine room of creativity and learning.

160 years ago, Sir Redmond Barry, the library’s first president planned to create ‘a great emporium of learning and philosophy, of literature, science, and art’. Barry personally ordered the first 3,846 books and on 10 February 1856 stayed late into the night stacking the shelves to ensure the library would be ready for its grand opening.

State Library Victoria CEO Kate Torney said the vision of the library’s founders for a great emporium of learning continues today.

“160 years ago the only requirement for entry was to be over 14 and have clean hands. No special invitation was necessary, everyone was welcome.


State Library of Victoria forecourt and front facade, 1866

“Today we throw our doors open even wider and there are no restrictions to entry. The creation of new public spaces specifically for children and young learners as part of our $83.1 million Vision 2020 redevelopment project shows our evolution from those early days.

“Vision 2020 will return significantly more space to public use and our original reading room, Queen’s Hall, will be restored to its full glory and become one of Australia’s great public rooms again thanks to a generous $10 million donation from the Ian Potter Foundation.

“The next five years will build on the library’s legacy of 160 years’ service to Victoria and make Australia’s oldest library a world leader.”


Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley said: “Our State Library was one of the first public libraries in the world and has been a place of inspiration and learning for generations of Victorians.

“160 years on it is as relevant as ever, used by millions of people from all walks of life, both in this magnificent building and online.

“It is one of our most beloved public institutions, owned and cherished by the people of Victoria, and integral to the fabric of our city and the cultural life of our state.”

Find out more about the Library’s redevelopment project.

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