Public Library Faith Restored

By Leslie Clague

The wonderful Melbourne City Library

Melbourne LibraryIn January ‘itinerant librarian’ here got the opportunity to travel to Melbourne. During my week’s stay I visited the Melbourne City Library and the State Library of Victoria. After a 30-year library career, I couldn’t help but have a nosey.

The entrance to the city library was a little dark and severe, but once inside I was blown away by the quality of the collections and the public use. It was packed, with all age levels and with work being carried on with deep concentration on computers, laptops, and iPads as well as in books and magazines. DVD and CD collections featured as well with listening and viewing space available.

The Victoria State Library: a breathtaking multi-purpose asset

On another day I set off for the State Library of Victoria. The building is very large and traditional, having been built in the 1800s as the first public library in Australia. It is famous for its glass dome, based on the British Library. An exhibit was currently on: “Free, Secular and Democratic – Building the Public Library 1853-1913.”

leslie clagueMy experience here was so breathtaking, with the reading rooms, exhibits, art work that I got quite teary from time to time. It was everything a library should be and put  me back in touch with what libraries are all about: a place to find information on just about everything; a place for quiet study, reading, reflection, thinking and creativity.

Here again the library was a mass of people, users all doing the above, respectful of each others pursuits, quiet and active. You could almost hear a subliminal hum of brain activity. No “shushing” librarians necessary, although there was the odd, small sign reminding that the space was for reading.

Respectfully catering for all needs

In New Zealand of late, there has been a tendency to turn libraries into community centres, places where people come to chat, share hobbies, hold meetings. People use computers in groups, talking, debating, not respectful of others seeking quiet pursuits.

Victoria State Library There are certainly meeting rooms in these two Melbourne libraries. People do use the libraries to meet, explore, discuss. However, the main facilities, the main rooms, house the collections and are used for reading and study. The main purpose is for supporting reading.

One of Victoria’s first public librarians stated the public library “ought to be characterised by a comprehensiveness which would stamp it not merely as national, but universal” and “it should cater to the wants of every profession, trade, calling and occupation.” It should contain “expositions of every view on questions interesting to the public… and the means of reference to the works of contemporary writers of the most active minds in all parts of the world ought to be found on the shelves.”

Today the State Library of Victoria has created a new vision: “Being a place where all Victorians can discover, learn, create and connect; a cultural and heritage destination for Victorians; and a leader in the discovery of information, enabling the generation of new knowledge and ideas.”


Both libraries are what public libraries should be. Check out and