Two women dressed formally
Gwenda Robb, left

It’s National Volunteer Week, so we’re celebrating all the dedicated, talented and inspiring people who volunteer with State Library Victoria, and we want you to meet some of them!

Today we have the pleasure of introducing Gwenda Robb, our longest serving volunteer!

‘I was an early volunteer at the Library, when the Museum was still there. A friend and I, both from the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society (ADFAS), began to catalogue the costume collection, using a computer in the bluestone corridors underground. In spite of the gloomy scene, we enjoyed our task.

‘Following that, in September 1995, I was invited to become a State Library Victoria tour guide. I still have the letter of invitation too. So long ago!

‘Outside of volunteering at the Library, I normally have quite a busy life. Writing this in time of COVID-19 means I am not travelling so much, but in between my normal trips to wonderful places, I spend my days tidying up the study, with a few bouts of working in my small garden which has ideas beyond its station and is trying to become a jungle. Oh and I’m cooking old favourites like meringues, which I try to keep a store of as they are useful for desserts when dinner guests attend! Yum.

‘From 1991–93 I went to Monash University, gaining an MA in Australian Art, and then co-authored the Concise dictionary of Australian artists (MUP). Then, having been to many places where my ancestors came from, I wrote a book about my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, who was born in 1769. This took up a few years! 

‘Even though I like solitude, I’m a gregarious person. I like talking to all sorts of people and it’s good to meet such a variety at SLV, and to introduce so many to the wonders that the Library contains. The books themselves give a broad sweep of history covering many subjects. So many are now digitised, so that visitors can go home and discover more. I’m thrilled to interest children and encourage them to read something more than Facebook, to discover there’s more to find when they get out in the wider world again.

World of the book is my favourite exhibition space at the Library, the older manuscripts especially, because we know so much more than they did at the time, but still are hard-pressed to create such beautiful objects. And of course the cuneiform tablet, promising so much to come, but still telling us of man’s endeavor in a scratched piece of hardened clay. Maps and botany books run a close second, and I let the pulp fiction in because it emphasises that the State Library is for all (Redmond Barry would approve of the sentiment, if not the books themselves).

‘The most rewarding part of volunteering is being part of a great institution, and the rewarding part of being a guide is the rapport with the other guides. I miss the chats en passent. Also, the Librarians and staff, many of whom I’ve known for a long time.

‘I have wonderful memories of the architectural history I could see around me in the early days, in the courtyards, the oldest 1856, then 1913, the 1960s. The State Library has evolved over many years but in these strange times it is my fervent hope that the sustaining features of SLV books and the atmosphere of dedication, quiet scholarship and research will remain as the cornerstone of this historic space, however it evolves. It is a Library where the noisy world fades away in thought and contemplation (a bit like a home actually!).’

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