State Library Victoria is comprised of 23 interconnected buildings that cover an entire city block! From the welcoming Library forecourt to the magnificent Dome of the La Trobe Reading Room, there is something for everyone to explore. Here, our librarians share what they love about their favourite spaces in the Library.

The Library forecourt

by Sarah Matthews – Information Services Librarian

It’s a sunny autumn day and I’m people-watching out the front of the library.

As usual, the scene is chaotic. Office workers lounge on the lawn with their lunches, while teenagers giggle and smooch and vape. Hungry seagulls patrol the periphery until a toddler trips gaily towards them and they scatter, squawking, in his wake.

Over on the forecourt, a game is under way on the giant chess board. A man steps forwards and moves his rook. His opponent narrows his eyes and his audience – a ragtag group of various ages – exclaim and mutter behind their hands.

Down below us, on the footpath, a busker is playing a soaring violin. The notes dip and swirl on the breeze as political activists hand out leaflets and tourists take selfies in front of the statues.

Not for the first time, I wonder what Redmond Barry would make of it all. It’s a far cry from how things looked in his day, but somehow, I think he would approve.

Left: Melbourne Public Library, Victoria, ca. 1856 – ca. 1876; H11749
Right: State Library Victoria forecourt, 2024 (Photo by author)

The Ian Potter Queen’s Hall

by Ana-Maria Traian – Information Services Librarian

Whenever I enter The Ian Potter Queen’s Hall, I am welcomed with a warm, natural light that washes over me. And it’s so peaceful and quiet, even though there are people sitting at every table or browsing books on the shelves.

With the 2020 redevelopment plan, the reading room was restored to its original 1856 glory. This was the first (and only, at that time) library building. Many of the historic features in the room are original, including the restored furniture from 1856 and exposed Bateman stencils from 1860. And that is why I like this space so much, as Melbourne’s history completely surrounds you.

Left: The Reading Room of the Melbourne Public Library [Queen’s Hall] 1866. S. Calvert (engraver); C Nettleton (photographer); IMP27/06/66/288
Right: The Ian Potter Queen’s Hall, 2024 (Photo by author)

This grand room once housed the entire library collection but now it is home to Australian and Victorian fiction, poetry and drama. You can also find translations of Australian novels in languages other than English. On your next visit to the Library, come and browse our wonderful Australian literature collection in The Ian Potter Queen’s Hall.

Redmond Barry Reading Room

by Clare Harlow – Digital Resources Graduate Librarian

Built in 1893, the Redmond Barry Reading Room was originally known as McCoy Hall and from 1899 until 1997 it was home to the National Museum. The room was full of fossils, skeletons and taxidermied animals from all over the world!

Left: Display of animals in McCoy Hall, National Museum, Melbourne, ca. 1910; H12936
Right: Redmond Barry Reading Room, 2024 (Photo by author)

Very little has changed in the 131 years since the space was first completed, even the floorboards are original. The change from museum to library facilitated the addition of a few creature comforts, including heating, cooling and additional lighting for reading.

The space feels like a hub for learning, and the knowledge that has passed through it is impossible to fathom. As Arthur C. Clarke once said, ‘I don’t pretend we have all the answers. But the questions are certainly worth thinking about.’ I love this space because it houses the Ask a Librarian desk, where I get to help people answer their questions and think about their next ones.

Arts Reading Room

by Caitlyn Grant – Digital Access and Family History Librarian

Modern libraries are hives of activity, which is why I love the Arts Reading Room. Once part of the National Gallery of Victoria, and nestled into the southeast corner of the Library, it is one of only two dedicated silent spaces in the building. I love the instant sense of calm that is evoked when you walk in, along with the warm hug caused by the abundance of natural light – it’s the perfect place to immerse yourself in a book or magazine about photography, painting, dance, or music composition.

Room with tables, chairs, bookshelves, TV screens and headphones
Arts Reading Room (Photo by author)

While silent, it’s also home to our music scores, browsable CD collection and listening posts.

If you’re a fan of the old-school card catalogues, why not come in and browse the Song Index and Arts Biography Index to your heart’s content!

Open drawer showing handwritten catalogue cards
Card catalogue, Arts Reading Room (Photo by author)

The Arts Reading Room has begun to highlight Victorian artists from our Collection in the space. Currently you’ll find a stunning series of self-portraits from The Huxleys on display. 

North Rotunda Portrait Gallery

by Alison Ridgway – Information Services Librarian

This small gallery was built in 1940 and historically exhibited portraiture featuring key figures in Victoria’s colonial settlement. However, in August 2023 the gallery was refreshed to showcase a more diverse array of portraits from our extensive State Collection.

Red walls hung with portraits
Portrait Gallery west wall (Photo by author)

The paintings on display include portraits of writers, poets, artists, activists and other important contributors to Victoria’s social history. A couple of my favourite artworks are:

  • Atong Atem’s Yellow Dress 2 (2022) H2022.122 – because it makes me feel represented as a woman of colour living in our dynamic city; and
  • Howard Arkley’s Study for the Portrait of Nick Cave (1999) MS14217/1/1659 – as it is an insightful character analysis of one of Melbourne’s most prolific songwriters and masterful storytellers.
Red walls hung with portraits
Portrait Gallery north wall (Photo by author)

My favourite design feature of this space is the vibrant hue of the customised ‘North Rotunda Red’ walls. It creates a warm, inviting atmosphere whilst providing a dramatic backdrop for the significant figures that hold our gaze, bringing Victoria’s cultural narrative to life.

La Trobe Reading Room

by Lois McEvey – Digital Access and Family History Librarian

The must-see attraction when visiting Melbourne. The place for a ‘selfie’ from the upper balconies. This room holds a special place in my heart and for many others as well. Visitors have met their partners here. Authors, scholars and comedians have found inspiration and a place for them to be creative and write. Many students continue to study here and many television shows were filmed here, including Restoration Australia, Who Do You Think You Are? and Postcards.

For me, I have seen it transformed from a dark, gloomy place to a room where the sunlight now beams in.

Left: Elevated view of the Domed Reading Room, State Library Victoria, 1984. Photo by Mary Cox. This work is in copyright; H84.376/2
Right: La Trobe Domed Reading Room, 2024 (Photo by author)

There are dedication plaques situated on the desks of the room which I am sure many visitors do not even notice. One of these plaques is incredibly significant for me, a dear friend that I worked with at the library and who was not given the opportunity to grow old. I hope this room continues to inspire and capture the hearts of all its visitors.

Gold plaque that reads In memory of Jane Louise (Chiller) Nicholas  1956-2010. Staff member at the State Library of Victoria 1984-2010. First brought here as a child by her grandfather, Oliver Newbold (1898-1973)
Dedication plaque, La Trobe Reading Room (Photo by author)

Find out more

We hope you have enjoyed reading about the favourite spaces of our librarians at State Library Victoria. To find out more about our library spaces, read our wonderful State Library Victoria – history research guide.

Come in to the Library to explore all of our spaces and make your own connections with them. You could even book in for a free tour of the Library by visiting the Tours page on our website.

We hope to see you soon at State Library Victoria.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Christine Christian

    Excellent work, Alison. Thank you for sharing this wonderful and rich history of our treasured State Library Victoria.

    • Alison Ridgway

      Thank you, Christine. I hope this inspires people to visit the Library and explore our wonderful spaces.

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