Standing in this magnificent Hall, it seems self-evident why the Governors of The Ian Potter Foundation were enthusiastic to support this exciting redevelopment.
This Hall was once the beating heart of the State Library, a place for learning, reflection and contemplation. It was an inspiring place with a superb reading room that offered people from all walks of life an opportunity to access a world-class collection of books and manuscripts.
In 1859 a German immigrant called Hermann Beckler wrote a letter* to his brother in Munich, and observed of the new library, “Today there stands a stately building, sponsored by just a few people, erected through the co-operation of many citizens and botanists which opens its doors free of charge to everyone, offering intellectual nourishment.
Here you can quench your thirst for knowledge; learn what is necessary or useful in your life or position; [and] raise your thoughts above the low, common path of daily life by reading sublime prose or poetry…
Beckler went on to say, “And here they are [books that had been hard to get in Munich] I take them out (only out of the rack, not out of the library), read them, make extracts, use them repeatedly and need appease no one. In effect the books are mine, are everyone's; this is a public library…”
This stately building reflects the pride our forebears had in their city and the importance placed on education for all its citizens. The democratic and welcoming nature of this library has been central to its success and appeal, and its place in the heart of Victorians.
The Hall has been very important to the Library and over time has served many purposes. First as a Reading Room, then it was used for 60 years by the Museum of Victoria, then after renovation it was re-opened as the Art, Music and Performing Arts Library. Since 2003, except for special occasions, it has been closed to the public. This Hall is one of our most significant heritage buildings which through this major redevelopment project will be returned to its former glory and to its original purpose, enhanced and updated to meet the needs of this century and the digital age.
Sir Ian Potter was a passionate supporter of the arts, of education and of excellence and innovation in all its forms. This renovation embraces all of these. The Foundation’s grant of $10 million is the third largest grant the Foundation has ever made and the largest awarded in our education program area.
This is an important project for Melbourne, for Victoria and for our future. The Ian Potter Foundation is very proud to support the State Library of Victoria in restoring this Hall to its role as a place of learning and inspiration. A place where today’s Victorians can experience a 21st century version of the wonder and delight that Hermann Beckler had in 1859.