This building has been on my list of must see places in Melbourne because of its beautiful architecture that I’d seen online and knew it was one of those places that had to be viewed in person, so when the chance came to visit on a recent trip to Melbourne I did just that and it didn’t disappoint. The State Library is located on Swanston Street in the heart of the city and from the outside the 1850s stone and heavy column fronted exterior could look like any building of its era, but what lies behind is a spectacular feast for the eyes.
The foundation stones of the building were laid in 1854 and the completed library opened in 1856. By late in the 19th century a lack of space for the growing collection led to the construction of the Domed Reading Room, the proposal for which was announced in 1906 at the library’s jubilee celebrations.
The architects for the project which was modelled on the British Museum and the Library of Congress in Washington DC, were a Melbourne company, Bates, Peebles and Smart. Construction of this octagonal room began in 1909 and the completed room was opened in 1913. This room still impresses today not least because of its scale being 35 metres, 6 storeys high and 35 metres wide. The incredible natural light that floods in through the 480 panes of glass in the dome means that natural light is all that is needed mostly and the view from three floors above looking down to the polished silky oak desks below is breathtaking. The practicalities of the Reading Room is that it allows 320 people to be seated at desks all with reading lamps and green glass lightshades. The shelves lining the walls can house up to 32,000 books. It’s an absolutely beautiful room that gives wow perspectives from down at floor level looking up as well as from the floors above. The reading room was refurbished in 2003 and was renamed at that time to the La Trobe Reading Room.
As you walk around the Dome Galleries surrounding the reading room on the floors above, there are cases exhibiting a display called World of the book, showing rare and historically significant books explaining the history of book design, production and illustration from the middle ages to the present day. You can also see the original spiral metal staircase that serviced these floors when it was first built but these days it’s a much easier exercise to access all floors by using the wide staircases or an elevator. You can also see photos and architectural drawings of construction of the dome and reading room.
The La Trobe Reading Room is just one part of this fascinating library where you could easily spend best part of a day looking at the permanent and visiting exhibitions. The library is open Monday to Thursday from 10am to 9pm and on Friday to Sundays from 10am to 6pm and is really something worth seeing when you’re in Melbourne city.