The building contains a glass reading room with a collection of newspapers and early books that were bought to Ballarat* through the wealth amassed by the goldfields. The Institutes Library was initially designed to cater for the education of the miners, but quickly grew to supply miners with newspapers from throughout the world, a collection of books and even a ladies reading room (containing homemaker books and magazines suitable for ladies).
Today the collection is just as astounding. Having kept these books in great condition given the decay that befall the building over the years, the Institute has now been restored and the glass roofed reading room is a sight to behold. The collection itself is heritage listed, so books cannot be removed or added to the original collection. I was excited after writing my honours thesis on Rosa Praed to find 8 of her books sitting on the shelf in front of me (a rare treat, I needed to book to access to these at Melbourne University.) I encourage anyone studying early Australian literature, or classics, to use the libraries online catalogue to see if it can help you.
I was encouraged on the day by the amount of wonderful volunteers who love not only the building but also the collection.
A complete history of the Institute can be found in Under Minerva’s Gaze, edited by Jill Blee and Phil Roberts and purchased via the Institute . If you are ever in Ballarat make sure you pop in (don’t be intimidated by those old front doors) and take a look at the building – it’s wonderful.
*Original European spelling of Ballarat was ‘Ballaarat’.