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

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 and the Victorian public.

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Our collections

Library collection

Fanciful scientific illustration of a seven-headed reptilian beast. Two birds fly above it; another perches on a twig.
Plate from rare book: 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. The collection has been formed through purchases, donations and exchange, and is still actively developed today. Currently, our collection includes approximately 1000 rare titles, 31,500 books, 3500 pamphlets, and 4000 journal titles.

The library includes the collections of two predecessor institutions: the National Museum of Victoria and the Science Museum of Victoria (formerly the Industrial and Technological Museum.) The library has also absorbed substantial donations from other Victorian and Melbourne-based institutions and societies over the course of its history, including material from the Royal Society of Victoria, the Melbourne Observatory, the Zoological and Acclimatisation Society of Victoria, the Parliamentary Library of Victoria and the Ecumenical Migration Centre. There is a tradition of donations from former staff and research associates, with recent years seeing additions of anthropological and ethnological material from former curators Alan West and Dr. Ron Vanderwal, scientific material from Alan Yen and Arturs Neboiss and historical material from Martin Hallett. For many years the library exchanged copies of the museum’s journal Memoirs of Museum Victoria with institutions around the world, thereby building up a collection of journal titles that are not widely held in other Australian collections.

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 with a focus on Melbourne and Victoria, migration history, technology, colonial and other exhibition catalogues, museum studies, and Museums Victoria publications.

Rare Book Collection

Scientific illustration of a pineapple plant accompanied by some insects on it and above it
Plate from rare book: 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 at Melbourne Museum also houses a Rare Book Collection specialising in eighteenth and nineteenth century natural history titles. The Museum's first director, Professor 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). Most of these items were purchased through booksellers in London, however McCoy purchased some titles directly from English ornithologist John Gould, who also supplied many bird specimens for the museum’s collection.

A secondary period of development occurred in 1970s when then Deputy Director of the National Museum, Tom Darragh, sought to fill gaps in the library's collection of taxonomic works. Darragh oversaw the acquisition of many rare works, including a prized set of John Gould titles which was enabled by a special government grant in 1975. Former museum trustee Sir Thomas Ramsay donated his collection of rare Antarctic books in the 1980s. His widow, Lady Mimi Ramsay, subsequently donated further Antarctica books, including a copy of the first book printed in Antarctica, the Aurora Australis. Outside of these periods, archival records show limited but strategic development of rare materials from at least the 1950s. Over the course of the museum’s history, rare books have shifted from being seen primarily as references, to objects of beauty and importance in their own right. Today the Rare Book Collection is used for a number of purposes, including exhibition, digitisation, events, tours, and creative inspiration for local design, art, ceramics, jewellery, tattoos and textiles. The library gratefully considers donations of rare material in relevant disciplines.

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 or through the Trove collection feature Australia’s biodiversity in print and online.

Some of our library items are available on interlibrary loan or document delivery. Contact your local public library or institution's library for more information on borrowing our library’s collection items through interlibrary loan. Libraries can make requests through LADD, or alternatively, we also accept direct enquiries from libraries with payment by IFLA vouchers.

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

On-site access and opening hours

The Museums Victoria Library is open to the public by appointment, 10am-4pm Monday to Friday at Melbourne Museum. 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 material. Some material is held in offsite storage and it may take longer to provide access.

Reading Room

Material from the Library 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.

A museum librarian showing a rare book in the Library's Reading Room at Melbourne Museum
A museum librarian showing a rare book in 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.


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 maintain a dedicated list of titles wanted for the Rare Book Collection, and seek donations of 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:

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

Donation offers can be made online.

Financial donations

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

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

Development Department
Museums Victoria
GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 8341 7303
[email protected]

Student and volunteer opportunities

The Library hosts 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. Our student placements provide a broad overview of special library and museum library work, and usually include some experience with rare books and special collections.

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

Library staff

Our librarians have a range of experience and expertise in rare books, special collections, special libraries and museum libraries.

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