Tuesday, 30 June 2015


An article about the Library published this month in Kairos,
the official journal of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.
Words and photograph by Natasha Marsh

Set inside a glamourous 1918 heritage
dance hall, the Carmelite Library in
Middle Park has the largest collection
of Carmelite writings in Australia. With
something for every reading level, the
library is home to researchers, students,
readers curious about the spiritual life
and locals looking for a lovely place to
relax and read. Natasha Marsh spoke with
head librarian Philip Harvey about
this treasure trove.

When the Carmelites first came to Australia from Ireland,
they brought their books with them. This became the basis
of a library for their student seminarians. In the 1980s the
Carmelites wanted to do something a little different with
their growing book collection.

‘The Carmelites decided that they didn’t want a library
that was just a duplicate of the other theological libraries
in Melbourne,’ said Philip Harvey, head librarian of the
Carmelite Library, Middle Park. They sought to put together
a special collection, one devoted to spirituality and

‘One of the very particular things about the Carmelite life is
its spiritual tradition. The Carmelites looked at this—and at
the great thinkers and holy people in their order (Sts Teresa
of Ávila and John of the Cross come to mind) —and decided
that that’s the kind of library that they wanted to build, one
specialising in spirituality.’

In just over 30 years, the Carmelite Library collection has
grown to be one of the strongest spiritual collections in
the country, and one of the largest collections of Carmelite
writings in the world.

‘There is much heated argument about which library is the
biggest,’ Philip said. ‘The three largest Carmelite libraries
are in Rome, Washington DC and Holland. After that, the
squabbles begin, but Melbourne is certainly the fourth or
fifth largest,’ he said.

The Carmelite Library provides an opportunity for people to
focus on what Philip calls ‘life’s important questions’ such as
‘What is wisdom? Who is God? And what is my relationship
with Him?’

‘In 1934, poet TS Eliot asked “what is the knowledge that we
have lost in information?” With so much information around
it’s easy to miss the things that are really important. This
library is one place that has a clear idea about what these
important questions are,’ he said.

The library has a strong research collection for students
of theology. It is an affiliated member of the University of
Divinity and first resource of Sentir, the spiritual direction
school at Campion College, Kew. According to Philip,
however, the largest group that uses the library is the
general reading public.

‘Spirituality is the favourite reading of a lot of people—much
more than many realise. Wherever you happen to be at,
there’s something here for you’.

 The library presents a welcoming environment to visitors.
Set in the beautiful hall opposite Our Lady of Mount Carmel
church, it retains many of the quirky features of the original
1918 heritage dance hall, complete with curtained stage.

The central long study desk is flanked by shelves of books,
while the rare books and Carmelita line the walls. Some
of these date to the 16th century. The library also has
several quiet nooks and crannies for reading. Onsite coffee
and tea making facilities allow visitors to cosy up for a
whole afternoon to read, or chat with the friendly staff
and volunteers.

Philip said the welcoming environment means that they get
many visitors from the local area. ‘There are a lot of people
in the area who treat this as their local library. We also have
people coming in off the street, of all sorts.’

The Carmelite library runs spiritual reading groups, lectures
and other activities.

‘The spiritual reading groups are very successful. People want
to talk about what they’ve read … we look at some text and
everyone gets carried away,’ he laughed.

The interplay between practical, welcoming and spiritual
reflection echoes the writings of St Teresa. Philip talked about
how the library reflects the ‘spirit’ of the beloved Spanish

‘This library exists because of people like Teresa. She was very
much about the practical world of the everyday in terms of
what she could do, but linked with this is a very strong prayer
life,’ he said.

‘Most of the great spiritual writers are people looking at a way
of living in relationship to God and their neighbours. They are
interested in the idea of the “personal relationship”, in other
words; prayer, contemplation and meditation.’

Visit the Carmelite Library at 214 Richardson Street,
Middle Park. For more information on opening hours or
events, go to www.carmelitelibrary.org or call 9682 8553.
You can also visit the library’s popular blog at