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Read some of our 100+ memories, anecdotes and interviews...Explore our dome stories
The State Library of Victoria invites you to celebrate the centenary of its iconic dome
Since 1913 the Library's domed reading room has been the symbolic heart of our great institution. Celebrate the scholarship, creativity and learning this architectural icon has inspired for generations of Victorians. Learn more
The Library opens for the first time.
Queen's Hall, Monash Hall and Palmer Hall are constructed.
The Library faces mounting challenges to store its collections and provide space for users. Barry Hall and Verdon Hall extensions are built in 1886 to help to alleviate conditions. However the President of the Trustees of the Library noted that further buildings would probably be needed within two years.
The Library Trustees appeal to the Government for funds for a new library building, but the appeal is rejected largely due to the poor position of government finances during the economic depression of the early 1890s.
Chief Librarian, E. La T. Armstrong, suggests a commission by the Library trustees for a new Reading Room be built to commemorate the Library's golden jubilee.
The trustees commission the building of a new Reading Room. Premier of Victoria, Sir Thomas Bent promised £10,000 for the commencement of the new building, to cost a further £50,000 over the next few years. Rough plans of the building, in which the main feature was a great octagonal Reading Room surrounded by galleries for storage of books, were prepared by Armstrong, approved by the trustees and submitted to architect Norman G. Peebles of the firm Bates, Peebles and Smart.
In February, Armstrong goes abroad to inspect libraries at the request of the Library trustees. He visits the British Museum in London and the Library of Congress in Washington, both of which inspired the design of the dome.
The decision is taken to demolish sections of the library, including the old Rotunda and the Lending Library buildings, in preparation for building of the dome.
In June, the trustees appoint J.W. and D.A. Swanson to build the new Reading Room for a tender of £66,914.
The foundation stone is laid by the Governor of Victoria, Sir Thomas Gibson-Carmichael on 26 October.
In May the form of the dome itself becomes dramatically visible to the public. The huge shape is outlined by the necessary timbers, and hundreds of loads of concrete materials are stored in readiness for commencement. For a short time, it is the largest concrete dome in the world.
Specifications for adjustable steel shelving are obtained for the domed Reading Room. A tender from Cubb’s Co. for £2,216 is accepted.
Tenders for electric lighting £2,103, electric lifts £1,462 and chairs and fittings £4,113 are accepted.
Extensive coverage of the ‘vast dome’ and ‘new public library’ is published in the 6 November Melbourne Argus. Final construction costs are reported as £75,000 by the Argus.
Possession of the domed Reading Room takes place in October and it is officially opened by the Governor-General Lord Denman on 14 November.
Hairline cracks make their first appearance in the dome. These give rise to exaggerated notions and statements about the threatened collapse of the dome.
A piece of plaster falls from the roof and knocks a visitor unconscious, when he recovered sufficiently to look for his assailant he was barely able to be restrained from assaulting the Chief Librarian, E. La T. Armstrong.
In June repairs to the dome of the Public Library and the roof of the National Gallery are in progress. This is one of the largest renovation projects in Melbourne for many years. Owing to the size of the dome, the stresses caused by expansion and contraction due to temperature changes are exceptionally heavy and extensive cracking results. The minute cracks leak when it rains heavily.
The Reading Room is closed for two weeks to be repainted.
Paint used during the wartime blackout is believed to have contributed to the deterioration of many of the 180 large sheets of glass in the dome that are cleaned and replaced by glaziers.
Plaster weighing 1 1/2lb falls 100 feet from the dome and deeply dents the linoleum covered floor. The Reading Room is forced to close for 4-6 weeks.
An attempt is made to waterproof the dome with bitumen paint. This is the first post war cleaning of the 12,000 square yards roof area of the Library.
Ray Lawler begins writing two plays in the dome, one of which is ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’.
In December, heavy rain pouring through the leaking dome damages hundreds of valuable books, many of them irreplaceable.
In January, the State Government grants £24,000 to the Public Library for urgent repair of the dome after an inspection by the Public Works Minister, Mr Merrifield.
On January 24, 1955 the Melbourne Herald reports that cameras and bags will not be allowed into the Reading Rooms of the Library.
Due to recurrent water leakage problems, the original skylights in the dome are covered with fibrous sheets on the inside and copper sheathing on the outside. Works are completed in May 1959. As a result the Reading Room assumes the darkness which becomes its signature for the next 43 years.
A mummified bat is discovered wedged between two book cases.
The 75th anniversary of the domed Reading Room is marked on 14 November.
Annulus spaces are refurbished.
The dome is closed for a major refurbishment in early 1999. Thousands of books are relocated into temporary storage over a 14 week period.
‘The Terms and Grammar of Creation’, a play written by Sue Gore and Bill Garner, focusing on the events leading up to, and including the conflict between Chief Librarian E. La T. Armstrong and his deputy Amos Brazier, is staged in the domed Reading Room from 2-13 March.
Renovations commence as part of the Library’s major redevelopment program, including the creation of exhibition galleries and reinstatement of glass to skylights in the dome.
The public are given the opportunity to buy a glass panel for $2500, ensuring their name is displayed in the library beside a map showing placement of their piece of glass in the dome.
The domed Reading Room is officially reopened by Premier Steve Bracks on 8 July and renamed the La Trobe Reading Room, after Victoria’s first Lieutenant-Governor Charles Joseph La Trobe. It now houses the Library’s Australiana collection. Included in the dome redevelopment is a band of quotations circling the room known as the ‘Ribbon of Words’. Originally known as the Dome Words Project, these literary quotations are unveiled at the reopening.
The Kelly armour is installed in the Dome Gallery as part of the permanent exhibition, The changing face of Victoria, which opened on 26 November.
The permanent exhibition, Mirror of the world: books and ideas, focusing on the history of rare and significant books opened in the Dome Gallery on 8 December.
Renowned Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith writes a serial in The Age featuring a fictional character who is the result of her parents meeting in the dome.
As part of a creative fellowship through the Library, Ross Coulter releases 10,000 hand-folded paper planes from the balconies of the Library's La Trobe Reading Room to create a visual representation of thought patterns that may have occurred in the room.
The official celebrations of the centenary of the dome begin, 14 November.
The centenary of the dome is marked, 14 November.
judithway: @tombarrett @library_vic Don't forget to look at the beautiful dome.
Our Free, secular and democratic image gallery features highlights from the exhibitionView the image gallery
See 100 readers read 100 seconds of their favourite book in the dome.Watch 100 readers on our YouTube channel
Browse Readings at the Library for exclusive dome-related merchandise that reproduces beautiful items from our collection.Visit Readings at the Library