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

October 29, 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.

Please find link to pdf here – The Library and the Book Arcade


And link to ISSUU –


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