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'Free, Secular and Democratic' Exhibition at State Library of Victoria

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Learn the history of the State Library of Victoria
The State Library of Victoria is hosting an exhibition entitled "Free, Secular and Democratic" in the Keith Murdoch Gallery, which traces the history of the first 60 years of the library, which is the period of 1853 to 1913 - i.e. the laying of the foundation stone to the completion of construction of the famous Dome.

The awe-inspiring Greco-Roman pillars at the entrance of the State Library of Victoria

The exhibition is free of cost and is open to public daily from 10am to 5pm (and to 9pm on Thursday). The exhibition will be on display till 2 February 2014. Free guided tours to the exhibition take place on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 1pm, and an additional one on Thursday at 5pm. Reserve at least an hour for the tour.

Guided Tours offered at the State Library

I happened to be in town and free for the 1pm tour, and am I glad I went along. I knew the State Library of Victoria was a landmark building, but I did not know the history of how it was constructed and who was responsible for it. Our guide was very knowledgeable and took us around the exhibition highlighting the important and salient features.

Entrance to the Exhibition

The library was initially known as The Melbourne Public Library and was established in 1853 when the government of Lieutenant Governor Charles LaTrobe was in office.

The start of the exhibition presents the initial layout of the library in terms of its architecture. The original plans and correspondence is on display. The vision for the library was grand and ambitious I must say and the architects were perhaps a bit ahead of their time.

Portrait of Sir Redmond Barry by George Frederick Folingsby c.1880
Became Trustee of the Library in 1853

The Queen's Hall was the first part of the library completed and opened to the public, with free access to books, a concept that was unheard of at the time. Also known as the Queen's Reading Room, it is no longer accessible to general public, but as part of the tour, we were given a chance to visit the area, which is nothing less than splendid, even today.

The Queen's Hall today

Once the construction of the library was under way, the book collection was one of the primary concerns. Mr. Barry as a trustee of the library took it on himself to procure the best books of the time for the Melbourne Public Library. Some of the original books are on display.

Portrait of Mr. Augustus Tulk by Philip Lindo c. 1852
Mr. Tulk became the first librarian of the Melbourne Public Library in 1856

The Melbourne Museum also started out at the library before it had a separate building of its own. Some of the original displays from the era are on display at the exhibition. One of the most beautiful is the display case called "Hummingbirds", which present a collection of hummingbirds purchased from John Gould (England).

Beautiful sculpture by unknown sculptor called "Rebecca at the Well c.1870"

Just as the Museum shared space within the Library, so did the Art Gallery. Beautiful paintings and sculptures are on display.

'Chair' on display, designed by Norman Peebles c.1913

Finally in 1913, the construction of the magnificent Dome was completed, and the Reading Room with the Dome was opened to Public.

A 360 degree view of the Domed reading room

A video of the evolution of the construction of the Library can be seen at this link.

The curator of the Exhibition is Harriet Edquist, Professor of Architectural History at RMIT and Director of RMIT Design Archives. It's a beautiful presentation and preservation of history of this gem of a building, lovingly known as "The Institution" for all that it has contributed over its existence to the people of Melbourne, and to the world.
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Why? Learn the History of one of the most significant buildings in Melbourne
When: See text of article for timings
Where: Keith Murdoch Gallery, State Library of Victoria
Cost: Free
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