Library and Archives

Australian Lyre Bird, Menura Superba from J. Gould's The Birds of Australia, vol. iii

Rare and wonderful

The Library and Archives has a rich, varied and historic collection of published works and primary source materials related to and informing the Museum’s history, research, collections and exhibitions.

The Museums Victoria Library collection was first established in the 1850s as a working collection for the Museum's curators. Over its 160-plus year history the library has evolved into one of the best collections of natural history books and journals in Australia. With a collection of over 40,000 titles, the library is considered to be of high significance to scholars, researchers and artists, along with Museums Victoria staff.

Our Archives collects and preserves records of enduring value documenting the administrative, collection, exhibition, education and research history of Museums Victoria. These records are made accessible to all Museums Victoria staff and interested members of public for research use.

Our collections

Library collection

Scientific Illustration: Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio, et iconibus artificiosissimis expressio, per universam physiees historiam
Plate from Albertus Seba’s Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio (1734-65). This illustration of a seven-headed hydra from Seba’s collection was later revealed to be a hoax specimen made of weasels and snakes.

The Library comprises published material in disciplines relevant to the research, collections and exhibitions of Museums Victoria. The collection has developed closely with the Museum's scientific and cultural collections, and reflects curatorial interests across the organisation's history.

Collection strengths include natural history in the fields of zoology, geology and palaeontology, scientific expedition reports, society and institutional journal titles, Indigenous cultures of Australia and the Pacific, Australian history, technology, colonial and other exhibition catalogues, museum studies, and Museums Victoria publications.

Rare book collection

Pineapple: Over de voorttelingen wonderbaerlyke Veranderingen der Surrianamsche lnsecten...
Plate from Maria Sibylla Merian’s Over de voorttelingen wonderbaerlyke Veranderingen der Surrianamsche lnsecten (1730). This striking illustration of a pineapple shows the artistry of Merian’s work, which was also scientifically significant during its time.

The Library also houses a rare book collection specialising in eighteenth and nineteenth century natural history titles. The Museum's first director, Frederick McCoy, spent a substantial sum establishing a library that would support the scientific research undertaken by the Museum's first curators.

Many of these items now form the basis of our Rare Book Collection, including Albertus Seba's Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio (1734-65), Maria Sibylla Merian's Europische Insecten and Over de voorttelingen en wonderbaerlyke veranderingen der Surinaamsche insecten (1730) and George Shaw's Zoology of New Holland (1794).

In the 1970s the Deputy Director of the National Museum, Tom Darragh, sought to fill gaps in the library's collection, overseeing the acquisition of many rare works, including a prized set of John Gould titles.

Archives collection

Unpublished manuscript 'Catalogue of all Specimens on Natural History collected by Mr Blandowski's Party during an expedition to the Lower Murray in 1857' by George Krefft
Unpublished manuscript 'Catalogue of all Specimens on Natural History collected by Mr Blandowski's Party during an expedition to the Lower Murray in 1857' by George Krefft.

The Museums Victoria Archives holds unpublished material and documents dating from the Museum's foundation in 1854, as well as relevant research material dating from the 1830s.

Records in the Museums Victoria Archives document the administrative, collection, exhibition, education and research history of Museums Victoria; its early correspondence; as well associated programs and activities, including business transactions documenting actions, decisions, policies and fiscal and legal rights and responsibilities of the Museum. We preserve these records because they have continuing value to the Museum and to the community.

One of the most significant values of the Archives collection is the provenance source material, providing evidence of legal ownership and historical information about State Collection items.

Online exhibitions

Using our services

Accessing our collections

Library items can be found by searching Trove

Some of our Library items have been digitised and can be accessed via the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Some of our Library items are available on Inter Library Loan from your local public library or institution's library.

List of Specimens Sent to Baron Ferdinand Von Mueller, Sir Frederick McCoy, 9 February 1889.
List of Specimens Sent to Baron Ferdinand Von Mueller in exchange for Australian Cassowary, Sir Frederick McCoy, 9 February 1889.

Other Library material can be accessed on site at Melbourne Museum. Please make an enquiry and outline the nature of your research.

Records in the Archives document the administrative, collection, exhibition, education and research history of Museums Victoria. If you think the Archives may contain material of interest, please complete an enquiry providing as much information as possible about the subject / topic of interest.

A number of public records related to the National Museum of Victoria, Industrial and Technological Museum, Science Museum of Victoria and Royal Exhibition Building are held at the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV). Contact PROV or search their collection online if you are interested in accessing these records.

On-site access and opening hours

Museums Victoria's Library and Archives are open to the public by appointment, 10am-4pm Monday to Friday. Contact us by completing an enquiry to arrange access to collection items.

Please note that a minimum 48 hours' notice is required when requesting access to Library and Archives material. Some material is held in offsite storage and it may take longer to provide access.

Reading Room

Material from the Library and Archives can be viewed in the Library Reading Room at Melbourne Museum.

The Reading Room has standalone computers available for visitor use, which also provide access to the Library’s online catalogue. Power outlets are available for visitors who wish to bring their own electronic devices. Free wireless internet is provided by Museums Victoria to visitors in the Reading Room.

If copies of material need to be made for research and reference purposes, reasonable access to a photocopier can be made available, or you are welcome to bring your own digital camera.

Museums Victoria librarian, Hayley Webster, showing a rare book in the Library's Reading Room at Melbourne Museum.
The Library's Reading Room at Melbourne Museum.

Please note it is the visitor’s responsibility to ensure adherence to copyright law. Before an item can be reproduced in a publication or exhibition, the citation of the record and the permission of the copyright holder must be obtained.

Donations

Donating to the Archives

The Archives welcomes donation offers of papers from significant contributors to Museums Victoria and its predecessor institutions over the years, as relate to their affairs with the Museum and its staff.

Examples of interest may include papers from former staff, Trustees or Board members; papers related to items that are currently part of the State collection; or papers from people who have had significant interactions with or collaborated on projects with Museum staff. Such papers can provide important contextual and provenance information, and are considered an essential supplement to the official records.

Donation offers can be made online. Please include details regarding the relevance and significance of the papers to Museums Victoria.

Donating to the Library

The Library is interested in donations of published material (books, journals, conference proceedings, etc.) within disciplines that relate to our collection strengths. Donations from former research staff at the museum are encouraged, as are offers of rare material in relevant disciplines. We seek journal issues that will fill gaps in our current collection.

The Library is particularly interested in rare or specialist works in the following collection areas:

  • Victorian history, especially relating to First Peoples, the history of Melbourne, the Royal Exhibition Building
  • 18th and 19th natural history titles in zoology, geology and palaeontology
  • Accounts of scientific voyages, especially those including Australia and Antarctica
  • Material relating to Indigenous cultures of the Pacific region

Donation offers can be made online.

Financial donations

Financial donations towards the conservation of the Rare Book Collection would be appreciated. 

You can donate to our Research & Collections online or contact: 

Sandie Hall
General Manager Development
Museums Victoria
GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 8341 7303
[email protected]

Student and volunteer opportunities

The Library and Archives host a limited number of tertiary students undertaking a relevant course of study, subject to staff availability. See our Internships page or discuss this with your placement coordinator if you are required to make arrangements through your educational institution.

We also take a limited number of volunteers – see our volunteering page to learn more. 

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