The State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia was established in 1854 as the Melbourne Public Library. This library was one of the first in the world to offer its services to the public for free, and it is also the oldest library in all of Australia.
Construction of the State Library started in 1854 after famed architect Joseph Reed – known for designing the Melbourne Town Hall years later – won a design competition that sought a structure to house a combined library, museum and art gallery. The building was finished three years later, and featured a collection of just 3,800 books.
The library would expand ten-fold in the next century, taking up an entire city block by the 1990s. Today, its vast collection includes over two million books and 350,000 photographs in addition to manuscripts, maps and newspapers. Many of these artifacts directly relate to the history of Victoria. The collection also includes the diaries of Melbourne’s founders, John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner, and houses some of the original armor of Ned Kelly – an Australian outlaw best known for the suit of bullet-proof armor he wore when he died in a shootout with police.
The courtyard of the library features countless intricately-carved statues, including a replica of the well-known Joan of Arc statue crafted by French sculptor Emmanuel Fremiet in 1907.
Today, the front lawn of the State Library of Victoria is a popular lunch spot for workers and students of downtown Melbourne.