The iconic domed reading of the State Library of Victoria, first opened to the public in 1913, turns 100 today.

Since its opening on 14 November 1913, the magnificent domed reading room (now known as the La Trobe Reading Room) has been the heart of the library and an unmistakable Melbourne landmark. Designed by architects Bates, Peebles & Smart and built by JW and DA Swanson at a cost of £66,914, the dome was constructed from reinforced concrete, brick and glass, and measures 34.75 metres in both diameter and height.

Originally commissioned for the Library’s 50th anniversary, and envisaged as a crowning glory to the city’s intellectual and artistic centre, the dome symbolised the making of a new world – socially, politically and creatively. Over the past century, it has inspired generations of writers, artists, researchers, students and visitors. More than a remarkable architectural accomplishment, it represents all that we have to offer the world: a vast collection, expert staff, a place to connect with the community, and a source of ideas, learning and pleasure.

CEO and State Librarian Sue Roberts said the centenary is an opportunity to reflect on the role of the State Library in the 21st century.

‘The library embodies many things that Melbournians can be proud of, our rich arts and culture, our intellectual rigour, and belief in the power of free speech and the need for public debate and discourse.

Some may imagine that as information becomes more widely available online that libraries are less relevant. Nothing could be further from the truth. This library and our great domed reading room are busier now than they have ever been and the variety of ways people are using the library is as varied as the 1.6 million individuals who come through the doors each year. This is a great time for libraries and public places of learning.’

Tonight to mark the dome centenary the library will hold its inaugural Big Ideas under the dome lecture. This new lecture series will bring the best and brightest minds from around the world to speak in the domed reading room of the State Library of Victoria.

The inaugural lecture will be delivered by international human-rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC on the subject of Free speech & its enemies: how to balance privacy & national security.

The Library is also hosting an exhibition tracing the first 60 years of the State Library:  Free, secular and democratic: building the Public Library 1853–1913 (31 May 2013 – 2 February 2014) which explores the ideals of liberalism and enlightenment that founded the creation of this enduring civic institution.

The history of the dome, stories of people it has inspired and stories of its caretakers are available on the dome centenary website


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