Is valuing and preserving history and knowledge an essential characteristic of civilisation? If so, is the formation of free public libraries an integral development of a civilisation? I'm not sufficiently curious to research that at the moment. I became only slightly curious on that point when I began to wonder whether the fact that I personally highly value the philosophy of free public libraries is simply a consequence of being a product of my civilisation and culture. In which case, it would not be surprising that I connect with the objectives of the founders of the State Library of Victoria who built cultural institutions to provide access to useful knowledge to assist in the growth and development of our society. And it would also then only be natural for me to be grateful that Sir Redmond Barry envisioned a ' great emporium of learning and philosophy, of literature, science and art'
And yet, I've visited the State Library only three times: first as a secondary student when the museum was still located on the same site; secondly with my godfather who introduced my sons and I to the chess room; and thirdly thanks to my library technicians' course including a rapid but comprehensive tour including glimpses behind the scenes. Still, while I've never accessed the State Library of Victoria for my own research, my knowledge of my world includes awareness that knowledge gained by others in my society is valued, accumulated, collected, preserved and accessible should I ever need it. Just how much we make use of that knowledge in constructing our future is a bunch of different questions.
Reading the history of the State Library of Victoria online I was engrossed:
- I appreciated the foresight of the founders' criteria for building design that it should be capable of expansion (and since the tour which mentioned the leaking & service issues that have come with expansions, I wonder whether those experiences have contributed hindsight for architecture and building).
- I bless the government who wisely passed the Copyright Protection Act in 1869 (and later the Libraries Act 1988) 'requiring that a copy of every book, magazine, pamphlet and map published in Victoria should be lodged at the Library by the publisher' even if that meant providing 'everything' Victorian rather than just 'the best of everything' desired by Sir Redmond Barry.
- I wondered about the experiences of the people who perhaps struggled with the decisions and circumstances through which the library evolved over time:
- the travelling libraries scheme, 1859-1981
- the lending service, 1892-1971
- understandable diversion of resources to universities,
- changing focus to acquire Australiana since the 1950s,
- overturning original rules of exclusion to include items of popular culture and contemporary material (I was
- the onsite library training school, 1948-1970 (what was it like to train there? what were the assessments like?)
- building expansions and preservation to retain the 'order, class and magnitude suitable to the prospects of the country'
- sharing then not sharing location with the museum and art gallery,
- introducing automated cataloguing.
While I can't afford to buy Treasures of the State Library of Victoria, from which the text of the online history is taken, I certainly plan to read it next time I'm in.
I'm glad I had the opportunity to take the tour in person - to explore and experience the building so well restored and developed. While the online tour offers a little taste, on site was entrancing.