The Batten lending Library
The BMI is home to one of the few remaining subscription libraries in Australia, and has been running continuously since 1859 in the tradition of Mechanics’ Institutes – providing education and recreation. Receive personal service and enjoy a unique peaceful and friendly setting in the heart of the Ballarat CBD.
Membership is open to all, and gives access to:
the lending library,
a monthly newsletter and
discounts on BMI events and venue hire.
Library Opening Hours
(may not be accurate due to COVID-19)
|Monday – Friday||10am – 4pm|
|Saturday||9:30am – 12pm|
Visit our new website for more information and resource material and to view the book listings of the lending library and the heritage collection.
Who was Mr Batten
The lending library plays a major role in the life of the institute and services over 600 members. For most of its years it has been known as the “Reading Room” but was renamed the “Batten Room” in 2000. This was to recognise the first of two paid BMI secretaries and head Librarians: WH Batten and his son HC Batten. Between them they served in these positions for 92 years: remarkable terms of office.
William served from 1859 – 1910 and Harry from 1910 – 1951. William had two wives (the first died) and 19 children.
The lending library is part of the original 1860 building that comprised the reading room, library, office and two classrooms on the ground floor. A large hall, capable of accommodating 1200 people occupied the upper floor. The building cost around £3400.
The BMI Collections includes hardback, paperback, DVDs, and talking book cassettes across a number of genres including latest releases and old favourites in crime fiction, mystery and suspense, Scandinavian thrillers, great Australian writers, and a great range of non-fiction titles. Plus, there are complete sets of ‘same character’ series – numbered in sequence on the spine.
Despite the library operating in a heritage space, everything that could be expected in a modern library can be found at the BMI, such as free internet access, photocopying, local daily newspapers and a reading area with comfortable armchairs.
Find a book
Explore our fiction and non fiction catalogues here
We are soon to be the beneficiaries of the Ballarat Film Society DVD collection- keep an eye out for more great films to borrow
New books are added to the collection for borrowing each month, which will be in our monthly newsletter and on our web page.
We have three book clubs – two on Saturdays and one on Monday night, contact the library if you are interested.
Now and again the collection is reviewed and some surplus, duplicate or non-current titles are made available for sale in the library. Keep an eye on the newsletter of latest news page for updates.
We do take donations of books in good order.
The BMI can provide public tours of the building. Get in touch with us to book in a tour for your group.
Why are the windows in the basement?
Those members who have ventured to the bowels of the Institute building will have noticed the windows in the basement. This has led to a number of theories about the building and the street level in Sturt Street. The Courier ran an article last year about our hidden street. I am so sorry to tell you that this is just a romantic myth. The street level today is very similar to the street level in 1859 when the Minerva Space building was constructed and in 1869 when the front section of the building was added.
The drawings for the basement are labelled in the architect’s own handwriting as “Basement” and illustrations and early photographs clearly show the existing entrance arch at street level. So why are there windows? The architect’s plan has the space in the east of the basement labelled “Restaurant” and the section that now houses the newspaper stacks was a kitchen. The room at the west end of the basement was the “Smoking Room” and entered separately though the west stair. The entry to the restaurant was through a stair and door opening off from Sturt Street.
To make the basement seem brighter and not so subterranean it was usual practice in the 19th century to place cast iron grids in the footpath above and then install windows in the room to allow natural daylight to filter through. Reference to these grids has been found in the minute books of the 1870s. The arched vaults at the north end of the basement are actually under the Sturt Street footpath and would appear to have been installed as part of the footing system to support the tall building.
From early minute books it does appear that a restaurant operated from the basement in the 1870s but was discontinued. The street grates probably caused a lot of concern with storm water, dirt and rubbish having to be regularly removed. Letting light in to basements from street level was a general practice and is used at Her Majesty’s Theatre with pavement lights set into the footpath to light the basement toilet areas. In London and Bath you see narrow railed “areas” leading down to the basement with below ground windows. I hope this clears up the mystery for our members.
If you would like to know more about the history of the building you may like to consult the Conservation Management Plan, 2001. A copy is held by the Institute.
Wendy Jacobs, Heritage Architect