History of the Library

When Sir Redmond Barry established the Melbourne Public Library, as the State Library was known at the time of its foundation in 1854, he conceived of it as 'the people’s university' – a place where the world’s knowledge and information would be freely available to all citizens of the growing colony of Victoria, regardless of their social status or financial resources.

This defining concept has guided the Library through 157 years of our history, re-emerging in different expressions over the years but remaining fundamentally the same – providing Victorians with ready access to a continually expanding world of knowledge.

The Library was one of the first free public libraries in the world and now features one of the great collections, built over the years through careful acquisition and generous donations.

Our buildings have multiplied and changed, from new additions to the more recent refurbishment of the Dome and the Redmond Barry Reading Room, and the integration of new technologies such as wireless access and computer workstations.

As we entered the 21st century, we re-expressed our founder’s principle in the tagline ‘Information. Ideas. Inspiration. For Everyone.' (adopted in 2003) and then a few years later, when we embarked on the slv21 strategy, we declared the Library’s aspiration for the digital age to be ‘put information into the hands of all Victorians when and where they want it’.

We have successfully pursued this ambition, offering services and programs to increasing numbers of Victorians. Visitors to the Swanston Street building now number more than 1.5 million annually, and visits to our websites have reached close to six million.

From November 2012 to November 2013 the Library celebrated the 100th anniversary of its domed La Trobe Reading Room. There was a range of  exhibitions, events and activities, as well as opportunities for the public to share their stories about the dome via the Library's Dome Centenary website. Visit the website to find out more about the celebrations and read the many stories from the community recounting their memories of the Library and the dome.