Although originally begun as a Mechanics' Institution for skilled workmen, anyone could join. A yearly subscription of one pound entitled the whole family to use the Library and Reading Room, visit the Museum and attend lectures organised by the Committee of Management. There was also a discount to entry fees charged for some of the other events held in the building.

Women were able to be individual members and the first to do so was Mrs Anderson in 1847. Read about her in 'First lady - Mrs Anderson' by Margaret Bowman.


This photograph of women in the main Reading Room of the Melbourne
Athenaeum is from a brochure printed in the early 1900s.

By 1853 there were over 5,000 books that could be borrowed by over 700 members and a large number of magazines and newspapers from local and overseas (British) publishers were available in the Reading Room. The more people subscribed, the larger the collections grew. 1872 was a year for change: the Large Hall was built on the ground floor and the library moved upstairs; the name of the institution was changed to the Melbourne Athenaeum, and the Reading Room was promoted by allowing a half-subscription of 10/6 for the use of the Reading Room only. A small section was set aside as a Ladies Room and magazines specifically published for women were purchased. With a large selection of newspapers and magazines, as noted in the 1873 annual report, the reduced Reading Room subscription proved to be so popular the membership doubled.

A brass plate proclaiming a one guinea subscription charge (£1/1/-), which sits above the shelves in a corner of the library, was fixed to the outside of the building in 1907. The fee was set in 1876 (an increase of one shilling since the original 1840 fee of one pound) and remained unchanged until 1950.

 The reasons for the subscription increase.