The State Library has always been one of my favourite buildings in Melbourne, containing within its collections my childhood memories of the musty grandeur of its old co-tenant, the museum, and later memories of the months I spent there as a 23 year-old … writing the first draft of an unpublished novel. That writing was done in the Dome Reading Room, many years before its restoration. Being young, and with nothing to be sad about, I revelled in the melancholy of its nineteenth century gloom, the luminous glow of the green reading lamps creating cones of concentrated light cast against the gloaming of the darkened dome above. Back then, before everything became user-friendly, the State Library and the museum and the GPO were spaces that filled me with awe, the hush and hum of them so different from the clamour of shops. The atmosphere of the Reading Room was like an inhalation, a breath collectively held by the loose community of self-made scholars and younger students, heads bowed over books, and the men with ragged beards who sat slumped in the hard wooden chairs, sheltering from the heat or the cold outside.
Exile, The Lives and Hopes of Werner Pelz, by Roger Averill, Transit Lounge, 2012, p186
This is the SLV as I first knew it too, when as a teenager I used to spend my Sundays sitting on the floor beside the Beethoven collection, reading my way through every book they had. Now it is a light-filled space that is a joy to work in and I love the restoration, I love the efficiency, I love being able to reserve things online, and I love the friendly staff – but I miss the sense of awe, and I miss the serendipity of open access.
Tourists can enjoy tours of the Dome galleries but if you can’t visit in person to celebrate the Dome’s forthcoming 100th anniversary and see the Enchanted Dome exhibition which runs from Friday 19 October 2012 to Sunday 14 July 2013, try this virtual exhibition instead.