The Melbourne Athenaeum Inc.'s 2024 Annual General Meeting will be held at 1pm, Monday 15 April, in the Melbourne Athenaeum Library.

For more information please refer to the events page or speak to a staff member.


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.

By 1853 there were over 5,000 books that could be borrowed by over 700 members and a large number of magazines and newspapers from local and overseas (British) publishers were available in the Reading Room. The more people subscribed, the larger the collections grew.

This photograph of women in the main Reading Room of the Melbourne Athenaeum is from a brochure printed in the early 1900s.

1872 was a year for change: the Large Hall was built on the ground floor and the library moved upstairs; the name of the institution was changed to the Melbourne Athenaeum, and the Reading Room was promoted by allowing a half-subscription of 10/6 for the use of the Reading Room only. A small section was set aside as a Ladies Room and magazines specifically published for women were purchased. With a large selection of newspapers and magazines, as noted in the 1873 annual report, the reduced Reading Room subscription proved to be so popular the membership doubled.

A brass plate proclaiming a one guinea subscription charge (£1/1/-), which sits above the shelves in a corner of the library, was fixed to the outside of the building in 1907. The fee was set in 1876 (an increase of one shilling since the original 1840 fee of one pound) and remained unchanged until 1950.

 Extracts from annual reports about increasing the subscription.

Annual report 1946:

The Library
During the year your Committee has given special attention to the development of the Library. It has long been evident that the subscriptions rate [of one guinea] per annum was not sufficient to meet the increased cost of books and magazines, the universal rise in salaries, and, in fact, or all commodities. When the Library was first established in 1839 the rate was [one pound] per annum. It was raised to [one guinea] per annum in 1876; and has remained at that figure ever since. Our founders provided the Institution with an invaluable birthright - the magnificent property we enjoy - and on this has been developed the Athenaeum of to-day.

Annual report 1950:

Page 1
...unending succession of increased costs ... costs of living adjustment ... Application ... the Fair Rents Board ... increasing the income ... [unsuccessful] there is only one other source of revenue of any appreciable magnitude, it was also unfortunately obvious to your Committee that it would be necessary to increase the rates of subscription to the Institution. After very careful consideration, and only because it was unavoidable, did your Committee with great reluctance consent to increase the burden upon the individual Members.

Subscription rate for one book is recorded in the 1950 annual report as 1 pound 5 shillings, being an increase of four shillings (40 pence) over 74 years.