World of the book

01 January 201831 December 2018
LocationDome Galleries, Level 4
Accessibility Has wheelchair access

Explore a world of ideas and imagination in this one-of-a-kind exhibition showcasing the history of book design, production and illustration from the Middle Ages to today.

See rare medieval manuscripts and sacred texts, magnificent natural history and botanical illustration, stunning modern artist books and fine press editions, as well as pioneering Australian classics, children’s books, graphic novels and comics. 

From books that break the mould to books that changed the world, World of the book celebrates the unique place books have in our hearts and minds.

More than 250 new items dating from 2050 BC to the present day are now on display. Thematic sections cover:

  • Books and ideas – medieval manuscripts and early printed books, sacred texts from around the world and from different religious traditions, alongside books that changed the world, including key works of philosophy and science
  • Books and imagination – famous works from the literary canon (such as Chaucer, Dante and Shakespeare), modernist classics, the works of the Beat generation, children’s books, Australian authors, graphic novels and comics, and pulp fiction
  • Exploring the world – atlases and maps from European voyages of discovery from the 16th century onwards, with a special focus on Australia and the South Pacific region; illustrated travel accounts, including some of the earliest uses of photography; and richly illustrated works of natural history
  • Art and nature – botanical art from the 16th century to today, drawing on works by key artists, botanists and physicians, such as Pierantonio Mattioli, John Gerard, Pierre Joseph Redouté, John Sibthorp, Ferdinand Bauer and Celia Rosser
  • Artist and books – including fine press work from William Morris and contemporaries, fine bindings from the medieval period to today, Japanese woodblock printed books, graphic design and artist books.

Opening hours

This free exhibition is open 10am–6pm daily except Thursdays, when it is open until 9pm.

Hero image (clockwise from top left):

  • Liber antiphonarius Romanus [Roman antiphonal], Germany, copied by scribe Sister Judoca van Malsen, 1566, Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria
  • Henry Charles Andrews, ‘Pœnia albiflora’ (detail), in The botanist’s repository for new and rare plants … vol. I–II (London, printed by T. Bensley and published by the author, 1797–1814), Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria
  • Chiromantia [Chiromancy] (Padua, Matthaeus Cerdonis, 1484), History of the Book Collection, State Library Victoria
  • Alexander Russell, engraving of Syrian women, from The natural history of Aleppo (second edition), edited by Patrick Russell (London, G.G. and J. Robinson, 1794), Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria
  • Samuel Wells, mask of Charles Dickens (detail), [1918], Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria