This past weekend was Melbourne Open House in Melbourne city. As one punter put it, it was a weekend of ‘fossicking around Melbourne’s insides’. Open buildings included Royal Melbourne Hospital, Russell St Substation, bits of Melbourne Uni and Block Arcade and many many more. About 70 in all. And one of them was our State Library (SLV). Because I volunteered at the Look! exhibition, I was given the opportunity to volunteer to show people through the catacombs and other parts of the library that are not generally open to all staff, let alone the public.

I arrived at 12 for our pre-tour briefing to find queues of over 2 hours. So briefing complete, the tours began. We volunteers had scripts but it was amazing how quickly you could get the basics and talk it like you knew it. We visited the Elephant Lift, the Pendulum Staircase and the catacombs, moving seamlessly through buildings that once stood independently. Plenty to learn too. eg Experimedia was only roofed over about 15 years ago, and was before that one of four carparks that surrounded the dome building.

Each group had its own dynamics. Some were silent, others chatty, others had questions. Still others answered questions (like what is the proper pronunciation of ‘Foucault’, developer of the Foucault Pendulum). This one is worth looking up on You Tube. Not for the State Library’s Pendulum (and that’s a whole other story) but to see what it is and what it does.

Other things I learnt:

Dewey also developed a file card system and SLV was an early adopter of the system which catalogued the libraries collection for 100 years and is still used now occasionally. Each book might have five file cards depending on how it was catalogued (author, illustrator, title subject etc).

There are about 20 buildings on the SLV block, now all under the SLV banner but once there were two museums, the National Gallery and the Library. But, the Library was there first! Foundation stone laid in 1854.

The catacombs …windowless, arched-roof storage facilities used to home many of the museum’s exhibits while not on display. They also housed ‘men who only come out at night’, a group of researchers and others who thrived in the crowded but quiet spaces where the public didn’t go. They reputedly had quite pasty complexions. I wonder too if they were prey to Seasonal Affective Disorder?