The scene before me was mesmerizing. I stood at the entrance to a cavernous room: circular in plan, the walls soared upwards on all sides towards a domed ceiling; shelves of books lining the walls. Ladders were propped intermittently against the shelves on various levels. There was a hush over the interior; this was a library – the State Library of Victoria. People sat studying at wooden desks that were arranged in rows like spokes of a cartwheel converging at a central hub. Green reading lamps glowed across the room illuminating the study areas and softly lighting the gloomy interior. This first memory of mine was when I was about five or six years old and already having a love of books and reading, this cathedral of books validated my own obsession. This awesome vision planted the seed of my desire to become an architect. It is ironic that becoming a librarian did not occur to me.
I had cause to visit the State Library of Victoria again this week and it never ceases to inspire me. The thoughtful and spectacular renovations have brought the library into the 21st century. I could not resist a visit to the domed reading room that is no longer gloomy as the skylights have been rebuilt. The Redmond Barry Reading Room is such an inviting place I wished I could stay all day. Their approach to their collections and exhibitions also send out firm messages that this is not an old stuffy and irrelevant institution. With offerings such as Inside a Dog for teenagers, Mirror of the World for book lovers, SLV21 for electronic media, and their new Ergo site for student researchers, they truly do try to engage and inspire us all. I looked in at the Medieval Books exhibition that was so busy it was difficult to squeeze in between other people to see the rare books on display.