The Library and the Book Arcade: Two institutional models of Colonial Melbourne

September 10, 2011

The Public Library of Victoria was founded in 1853, just three years after the District of Port Phillip seperated from New South Wales and the Colony of Victoria was created. The young colony was founded at a point in history in which there was strong interest within Western thinking about the nature of civilisation and social progress, with ideas from the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution questioning the nature of Man and his wider context within society. For the governing colonists the creation of new institutional spaces was a chance to ‘mold’ and improve the new settler community from its foundation, with the belief that access to knowledge would foster a secular society in which Science was preferenced over Nature. These spaces were also seen as vital in maintaining ‘order’ in a colony disconnected so greatly from primary civilisation.

Exactly twenty years after the founding of the Public Library of Victoria Mr E.W Cole opened ‘Cole’s Book Arcade’, a private business which similarly aimed to improve colonial Melbourne through access to knowledge and learning. Whilst the Public Library held a carefully curated collection of books reflecting the ambitions of its founders, Cole’s store was decidedly preferenced towards entertainment and popular culture. Whilst both spaces shared similar aims in educating the working classes, this essay will investigate the differing models of spatial arrangement and formation utililized.

The basis of this investigation will be the writings of Foucault and his ideas on the emergence of ‘biopolitics’, and the subjectification and subjugation of the individual during the eighteenth century. Bennett’s writings on the exhibitionary complex will also be applied to the two spaces, with the relationship between the individual and the spectacle explored.

Referencing primary sources from key figures in Melbourne during this period, such as Redmond Barry (Judge of the Supreme Court and key educational patron) and Augustus Tulk (Chief Librarian of the Public Library), as well as newspaper recordings from the era, I will aim to substantiate and articulate the extent to which Foucault and Bennett’s readings are prevalent in the formation of two contrasting eighteenth century institutional models – the Public Library of Victoria and Cole’s Book Arcade.

Preliminary Bibliography

Bennett, Tony ‘The Exhibitionary Complex’, The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics, London: Routledge, 1995, excerpt, pp. 59-79.

Dovey, K. (2008) Framing Places, 2nd ed. London:Routledge.

Becker, Dr. Herman ‘A Visit to the Library in 1859’, La Trobe Library Journal, Vol. 7, No. 25, April 1980,

Foucault, Michel Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, London: Penguin, 1991.

Foucault, Michel ‘Space, Knowledge and Power’, Power, London: Penguin, 2000, pp. 349-364.

Foucault, Michel ‘Spaces and Classes’ in The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception, London: Routledge, 1989.

Fox, Paul ‘The State Library of Victoria: Science and Civilisation’, Transition, Vol. 26, Spring 1988 pp.14-26.

Lang, Lisa Utopian Man, Melbourne: Allen and Unwin, 2009.

L’Estrange, Sarah (Producer) “The Imaginarium of EW Cole”, Hindsight, ABC Radio National, as broadcast 21 August 2011.

Reynolds, Sue ‘Libraries, Librarians and Librarianship in the colony of Victoria’, Australian Academic & Research Libraries, March 2009, Vol. 40, No. 1, pp. 50-64

Wallenstein, Sven-Olov Biopolitics and the Emergence of Modern Architecture, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009

‘Coles Book Arcade’, The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria: 1848 – 1956), Thursday 1 September 1904, page 11.


– Tim Brooks

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