Building a new world: a history of the State Library of Victoria 1853–1913
By Harriet Edquist
A free e-book published by the State Library of Victoria, November 2013
For the young colony of Victoria, the 1850s was a time of optimism and hunger for social change. Buoyed by gold-rush wealth and the freedom to create a new kind of society, key thinkers in government, arts and industry set about creating an ambitious urban vision for Melbourne as a modern city combining the best of old Europe with the spirit of progress, democracy and opportunity for all.
One of the grandest innovations at this time was the building of Australia’s first public library in 1853. The Melbourne Public Library (as it was then known) was envisaged as a pantheon of the world’s knowledge, open to any citizen over the age of 14 – provided they had clean hands – and offering free access to self-education unmatched by any other public institution in the nation.
Building a new world: a history of the State Library of Victoria 1853–1913 traces the story of the Library and the other institutions that came to share its landmark site – the National Gallery of Victoria, the art and design schools and the Museum. This colourful tale of a century of institutional and architectural reform provides a fascinating insight into the development of Melbourne as Australia’s cultural capital.
Harriet Edquist is Professor of Architectural History and Director of the RMIT Design Archives at RMIT University, Melbourne. A curator and writer, she has published widely on Australian architecture, design and art; her most recent book is Michael O’Connell: the lost modernist (2011). Her exhibitions include The lost modernist: Michael O’Connell (Bendigo Art Gallery 2011–12) and Free, secular and democratic: building the Public Library 1853–1913 (State Library of Victoria 2013–14).
This ebook can be accessed free of charge at http://building-a-new-world.slv.vic.gov.au