December 30, 2006

An old friend returns home

For three years the Melbourne Cricket Club's library collection was packed up in boxes waiting for its new home on the third level of the members' area

The new version of the library © Melbourne Cricket Club

The final piece in the MCG redevelopment is complete. For three years the Melbourne Cricket Club's library collection was packed up in boxes waiting for its new home on the third level of the members' area. It re-opened in September, but the Boxing Day Test was its first major cricket event and on day three a record 1284 people visited the facility, which was founded in 1873 with donations of The Australasian newspaper.

More than 100,000 items were moved from storage into the immaculate rooms and together they form the most comprehensive cricket collection in Australia. On the world stage only Lord's and the CC Morris Library at Haverford College in Philadelphia compare. Paid for by club memberships, the staff attempts to have two copies for each book: one for show and another for the files.

The library has had a handful of homes in its 133-year history and the current site is incredible. A rare-book display is housed in the entry, with the most treasured items locked behind glass, and there are comfortable leather chairs offering an amazing view towards the city. On discovering the reading area it is initially a difficult choice whether to stare out the window or start searching for material.

A French-English dictionary from 1611, which is bound by deer hide, is the oldest resident and contains three references to cricket - "crosser" and "croser" are defined as "to play of cricket" and a "crosse" is a bishop's staff, which is also used for cricket. WG Grace's Cricket, which was donated on his final tour of Australia in 1891-92, is a well-cared for piece and the unpublished notes and final manuscripts of Clarrie Grimmett's "Tricking the Batsman" have been held since they were bought at auction in 1998.

WG Grace's Cricket is a treasured item © Getty Images

"Biographical and history books are popular, people love tour books and they look for prose: Cardus, Arlott, Haigh and Lucas," David Studham, the librarian since 1997, says. During a game only MCC members and their guests can visit but the general public can make appointments outside of matches.

The main exhibition for the Boxing Day Test is the 50 best Australian cricket books of all time. "We don't necessarily agree with the choices, but it's a good list for debate," Studham says. Ray Robinson, Jack Fingleton and Gideon Haigh dominate the order and it also includes state publications, the early 20th-century legspinner Arthur Mailey's autobiography and Mark Ray's mostly pictorial Cricket Masala.

Books are donated through estates and by authors, but the library is constantly searching for titles to fill gaps from local club histories - Forest Hill Cricket Club's was accepted during the game - to high-profile works coming up at auction. "Our acquisitions policy is that we get everything we can for cricket that is written in English," Studham says. "For other sports the club plays or hosts, which includes events like the Olympic and Commonwealth games, we look for histories and biographies."

Five people are on staff and 15 dedicated volunteers help fulfill requests from the members, cricket writers and students from primary school to university. The library's range is wide - it also publishes a couple of books a year - and it is on show again.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo