“You can’t take books out of the library, it’s against the law” a member of staff curtly informed me. That was a good start. I persevere and make it to the information desk. A friendly man signs me up and tells me everything I need to know and more. He points to the newspaper section and says “I used to park my car there”. This chap has more than a few tales to tell. People come up and ask him for the ‘gynaecology’ section, “the one where you find your family history”. Another person asked for the ‘Electric Role’ meaning Electoral role. He could fill books with his experiences in this place over the years I bet. I quickly realise you do not need to be the ‘bookish’ type to enjoy this place.
The State Library of Victoria is far more than home to a collection of old books, although they have those too. The stately establishmentis stooped in history and was built in 1854. It stands firmly in stone on regal pillars and boasts being one of the first free public libraries in the world, crikey, did they set the bar high. There are six levels, each a rabbit warren to explore and the map that sits on the front desk is well justified.
Level 6 is the viewing platform where you can gaze up at the recently restored architectural brilliance of the 100-year-old Dome.For anyone remotely interested in architecture and striking old buildings, this is a must. Look down and you’ll see level 3 with studious people sitting in the old-fashioned La Trobe reading room, complete with the vintage green Banker’s lamps and solid wooden desks.
Ned Kelly is currently on level 5. Well, a re-creation of his armour and gun is, at least. The outlawed bushranger is deeply embedded in Australian, indeed Victorian history. It was a pleasant surprise to see remnants of the man I’ve glimpsed at through Heath Ledger’s eyes on the big screen in the 2003 Ned Kelly movie. There are videos, artefacts and stories from the Kelly Gang and the controversy between the Irish and English living in Australiain the 1800’s. They’ve got more than just his notorious life covered here; Ned’s eerie death maskisalso there for all to see. Kids can also create their very own Ned Kelly helmet in the Experimedia section.
Kids are well considered in the Experimedia section. They can lose hours by, playing games, using computers or creating art and craft projects. Then there’s the multitude of children’s books, of course. The range of activities you can do here at no cost is endless. I wander past a series of tables where fellow citizens are challenging each other to games of chess.
No library of Victoria would be complete without AFL footy records – they’re tucked away inside too. Art exhibitions can be found at the Keith Murdoch, Cowen and Dome Galleries. One can even listen to music and watch films in the Arts reading room, if they please. If it all gets a bit overwhelming then there are guided tours available. If you need a sit-down afterwards then visit the on-site café Mr Tulk.
That covers the arty-farty, the football mad, young ones, movie buffs, university students, keen historians, and the like. It turns out that this place is not just for nerds, it’s for everyone. All of this is hidden behind the doors of the State Library of Victoria. Who would have thought?
There is no fee to visit the library, everyone is welcome. It is free to join and all you need is a driver’s licence. Refreshingly, you do not have to exit through the gift shop.There is a strategically placed Readings bookshop for your convenience though.
This place might be historic but it has moved with the times and there are online services including archives, digital collections and eBooks available to members. You have to stop by the library to pick up your membership card first though. And while you’re there, take a little look around, it might just surprise you.
Satisfied that I’ve covered almost every nook and cranny, I take my leave and pass the stern gatekeeper that I met at the start of my visit. I give her an assuring look. No, I didnot take any books with me.
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