For anybody in Victoria who is interested in military history (and readers of this website probably fall into that category) or in strategic and defence matters more generally, there is a jewel of a resource available to them at the Royal United Service Institute of Victoria.
The RUSIV’s origins go back to the 1890’s when Institutes were founded in each state modelled on the Royal United Services Institution in London. The RUSI aims to promote informed debate and improve public awareness and understanding of defence issues and the national security of Australia. It strives to achieve this by providing forums for discussion and access to a wide range of informative resources. It is a non-political organisation that does not take a position or view on these matters and it is formally backed by the Department of Defence.
RUSI in Victoria fulfils these aims by sponsoring regular addresses by speakers on important international and national security and defence issues. It also maintains a library devoted to strategic and defence issues and this is my present focus. Its holdings are both historical and contemporary and RUSI claims on its website to have the best military library in the state. This is a claim MHHV is happy to endorse. I have used the library periodically in the past but I had the opportunity recently to take a guided tour with the Victorian President, MAJ GEN Mike O’Brien, which only served to reinforce my opinion that here was a national, or at least state, treasure worth celebrating and nurturing.
The library’s collection policy focuses on Australia and New Zealand and our region; it ensures coverage of Navy, Army and Air Force and covers military history, biography and contemporary strategic and defence analysis. The core of the book collection (presently standing at about 34,000 volumes) starts with the official histories and complements them with unit histories and analyses of battles and campaigns. One of the most remarkable features of the library’s collection is the well preserved and catalogued ephemera; pamphlets, posters, letters, even sheet music, that provide insight into other times and are gold for a researcher into the social and community aspects of war history. There are many maps, journals, diaries and manuscripts that add real depth to studies of battles and campaigns.
A feature of the library that I greatly value is the ability to browse in the stacks, not just in the catalogue or index. It is a joy to walk among and explore the actual books, always with the probability of finding an unexpected addition to your planned acquisitions.
The library runs on the efforts of volunteers but is in no sense less professional for that. The people doing the cataloguing and other functions are dedicated, knowledgeable and above all, helpful. It is situated inside the Victoria Barracks security area and for that reason may be perceived to be hard to access. The reality is much less daunting than the perception; a phone call with 24 hours’ notice is all it takes and there is no chance you will be prevented by security from getting in to the building and browsing or researching to your heart’s content. I know the staff would welcome more use of the library into the future now that we are (relatively) free of Covid related limitations.
Visit https://www.rusivic.org.au/ for more information
The RUSI VIC library is now on-line.
Contact Michael Buckridge about this article.