The Melbourne Athenaeum will be closed on Tuesday November 7 for the Melbourne Cup public holiday.
We will be open regular hours on Monday November 6 and Wednesday November 8.
The story that unfolds here is about a unique organisation which continues to contribute to the city's culture in a building that was first completed in 1842.
Exhibitions, meetings, musical, theatrical and other entertainments, films, lectures, educational classes, dances and formal balls have been held within the building's walls. The theatres continue to entertain Melbourne's people and provide a space for social and cultural events.
The Melbourne Athenaeum Library, a spacious, quiet and light-filled centre for book-lovers started as a collection of donated books in a small rented house at the corner of Queen Street and Bourke Street.
An annual subscription of one pound enabled members to become part of an educational and cultural hub. Lectures, classes and a museum were part of the plan but the library was regarded as the heart of the Institution, a place of knowledge that embodied the aims of the institution: 'the diffusion of scientific and useful knowledge among its members and the community generally.'
Among the first books donated were those of Henry Gisborne, a vice-president elected at the founding meeting in 1839. Read about Henry's gift of books by Matthew Gisborne, a member of the Melbourne Athenaeum's Committee of Management: The First Books.
Over the years there were many improvements to ensure members had a comfortable, well-stocked Library. A separate Reading Room was established, providing regional and overseas newspapers and magazines – a highly-valued asset in a colonial town. By 1845 the library contained 650 volumes and membership had grown to 224.
Although originally begun as a Mechanics' Institution for skilled workmen, anyone could join. A yearly subscription of one pound entitled the whole family to use the Library and Reading Room, visit the Museum and attend lectures organised by the Committee of Management. There was also a discount to entry fees charged for some of the other events held in the building.
Women were able to be individual members and the first to do so was Mrs Anderson in 1847. Read about her in 'First lady - Mrs Anderson' by Margaret Bowman.
Gas lighting was introduced in 1856 throughout the building and although the improved lighting in the Reading Room was appreciated by members, the heat created was not, particularly in the hotter months.
The Reading Room was made comfortable with reading tables, chairs and fireplaces. According to the annual report of 1861, there were 635 members and, of these, 385 borrowed books and magazines. Evidently the other 250 joined because of the excellent accommodation and the quantity of reading matter...
The centennial year, 1939, was celebrated in several ways. A history of the institution by the secretary, Mr Wilmot, was published, titled: 'The Melbourne Athenaeum, 1839-1939 : history and records of the institution'. Mr Wilmot also arranged for a grand dinner to be held in the Myer Mural Hall.
The board had considered modernising the building to celebrate, but unfortunately the cost of the planned upgrade was too high and an agreeable alternative was to renovate the library. The dividing wall between the library and reading room was removed...
In 1952 membership of the Melbourne Athenaeum was at its highest level with 7,579 members. Even though multiple copies of popular titles were purchased, there was a problem ensuring there were enough current books in the library that the members wanted to read.
Purchase of books, which were rising in price, had to be balanced with employing sufficient staff to serve the customers and labour costs were also rising. Then the number of memberships started declining.
During the booming Australian post-war economy, many households aspired to own a record player and a record collection to reflect their family's musical tastes. Records became treasured possessions and record playing became an enjoyable family interlude.
Until record making became an industry in Australia, all records were imported; fine music and classical works were particularly expensive as most were imported from Europe. Music lovers wanting to listen to classical music could rarely hope to own...
The library of the Melbourne Athenaeum remains a subscription library, with very reasonable fees considering the high cost of books. Providing a peaceful and welcoming space in the centre of the bustling city, the library attracts people who love books and love to read — this is the library you wish was your own.
The library currently has over 30,000 books in its collection and a growing collection of ebooks through Overdrive, as well as subscriptions for many local and international magazines and newspapers. Although the library caters to as many tastes as...