An Admiral Fitzroy barometer, purchased in 1873 for the library
currently held in the archives
Gas lighting was introduced in 1856 throughout the building and although the improved lighting in the Reading Room was appreciated by members, the heat created was not, particularly in the hotter months. The Reading Room was made comfortable with reading tables, chairs and fireplaces. According to the annual report of 1861, there were 635 members and, of these, 385 borrowed books and magazines. Evidently the other 250 joined because of the excellent accommodation and the quantity of reading matter. Smoking was permitted at that time.
The library from an undated brochure (possibly between 1913 and 1918)
In 1872, with the large hall taking up most of the ground floor, the library was moved to a larger space on the first floor, in time to accommodate the increased membership, which had doubled from the previous year. When the Sydney writer Garnet Walch arrived in 1873 to take over the role of secretary, one of his tasks was to oversee the refurbishment and promotion of the library. The committee considered the librarian, Walter Thompson, not able to carry out these changes and replaced him with William Smith (since 1839 there have been only 17 librarians). One of Walch's friends, the writer Marcus Clarke, was elected to the committee of management in 1876, where he served until 1879.
Electricity was connected to the library and Reading Room in March 1883, reducing the damage to the books on the upper shelves caused by the heat and fumes of the gas lights.
The 1886 renovations provided a third storey and a new façade for the building. The library was made larger to accommodate the increasing number of members and the large book collection of 20,000 volumes.
The committee of management continually improved the building and the next set of major improvements was made in 1917, when the library and smoking room (opened in 1890) were redecorated. "In the Library a great amount of literature of a past date has been disposed of, and the general re-arrangement of shelving has resulted in providing a means of displaying the books which did not exist before, and of enabling members to realise the very many advantages the library provides." Annual report of the Melbourne Athenaeum, 1917.
The Reading Room, from an undated brochure (possibly between 1913 and 1918)