Home > World of the Book 2023

World of the Book 2023

Plan your visit

Saturday, 1 April 2023 - 10:00amSunday, 12 May 2024 - 6:00pm
Dome Galleries, Level 4

About the exhibition

Chart the rise and restyling of the beloved book in this one-of-a-kind exhibition on the history of book design, production and illustration, from the Middle Ages to today.

World of the Book features more than 300 rare, remarkable, historically significant items in the State Collection, uncovering the unique stories they tell and celebrating the unique place books have in our hearts and minds.

This year’s themes explore:

  • books and ideas
  • books and imagination
  • art and nature
  • artists and books, and
  • Egyptology, in honour of the 100th anniversary of the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Introducing World of the Book 2023

Meet the curators

A man and a woman smiling at the camera

Des Cowley and Anna Welch

Lead Curator

  • Anna Welch is Principal Librarian, History of the Book and Arts. A historian specialising in the study of medieval manuscripts, she has been part of World of the Book's curatorial team since 2011.

Assistant Curators

  • Des Cowley is former Principal Librarian, History of the Book and Arts, and co-author of The World of the Book. He created World of the Book (as Mirror of the World: Books & Ideas) in 2005 with Clare Williamson.
  • Dominique Dunstan is former Librarian History of the Book and Arts.
  • Daniel Wee is Senior Librarian History of the Book and Arts.

Exhibition labels

Johannes Hevelius, Selenographia (The Study of the Moon’s Surface), Gdansk, Poland, printed by Andreas Hünefeld, 1647, Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria

Download the exhibition labels as an accessible pdf to read on your own device, adjusting options to suit your needs.

Read our blogs

Lewis Carroll (author) and John Tenniel (artist), Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There, London, Macmillan and Co., 1872, Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria, donated by Graham and Anita Anderson, 2016

Delve a little deeper into the World of the Book with our blogs, written by our expert librarians and the curators themselves.

Owen Jones & The Grammar of Ornament

The Grammar of Ornament is known as the 'bible of ornament'; an epic documentation of the language of architecture which was published in 1856.

Watch the video above for the story behind one of the most influential design publications in history and its creator.

World of the Book in the news

Have a look through the media coverage of the World of the Book exhibition, including some of our favourite stories from the display.

Artists & books

Bilder-Zauberein: eine amüsante Unterhaltung für Jung und Alt = Blow Book, or Magic Picture Book: Amusing and Interesting for Young and Old, Berlin, Luxus Papier Fabrik, 1880, Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria

Books are valued not only for their content, but as objects of beauty and craft. Since the invention of the codex, artists in cultures around the world have been intimately involved in their production. They have determined the look and shape of books, from papermaking and illustration to design and binding.

The Artists & books section of World of the Book includes:

  • Four exquisite and fragile embroidered bindings dating from the 17th century which are part of the John Emmerson Collection.
  • Two showcases focusing on silhouettes and shadow play, including works from the 19th century through to contemporary book art.
  • A display of contemporary works that challenge traditional modes of reading and explore the form and possibilities of the book as a visual object.

Mastering the art of shadowgraphy

Shadowgraphy is the art of making shapes or shadows and using them to tell a story, often performed using your hands in a dynamic and expressive way. World of the Book 2023 explores shadowgraphy through books and shadow puppets from the 1800s to the modern day.

In this video, Dominique explores the art form's long history and the influence of some of the practice's great luminaries, including Félicien Trewey, Louis Nikola and Henry Bursill, whose work can be found within the Library's Collection.

Plus, Dominique shares some tips of her own for becoming a master shadowgrapher - all you need is a sharp light, a screen and hands to practice with!

Books & ideas

Philip Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, London, imprinted for Simon Waterson, 1605, Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria

There was a time when it was thought that the world’s knowledge could be collected between the covers of a book. The information explosion of recent times now makes it impossible to contain the world’s knowledge within one library, let alone in one book, yet books continue to be a powerful means of informing and inspiring new generations.

The Books & ideas section of World of the Book showcases:

  • Curiosities from the John Emmerson Collection, including a 1605 edition of Philip Sidney’s epic poem The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, in which a cat has walked through some spilled ink, leaving its pawprints across the page.
  • A focus on astronomy and stargazing including Johannes de Sacro Bosco’s Sphaera mundi (The Sphere of the World). Printed in Venice in 1488, this edition is one of the earliest European examples of colour printing.
  • A display on women and Newtonian physics, including works by French natural philosopher and mathematician Émilie du Châtelet. The acquisition of these works was supported by the Women Writers Fund.


Giovanni Battista Belzoni, Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia, London, J. Murray, 1820, Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria

Books reflect our desire to know the world – to see it, to classify it and to make sense of it. As well as documenting the past, books have always recorded the new. From scientific discoveries to journeys to new lands, books enable novel ideas and information to be shared around the globe.

This section of the exhibition focusses on Ancient Egypt. It marks the centenary of the discovery and excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb by English archaeologist Howard Carter. The display offers a critical perspective on the longstanding European obsession with ancient Egypt, and explores modern Egyptian political and literary responses to colonialism and to Egypt’s relationship with its past.

The Egyptology section of World of the Book features:

  • A showcase examining the race to crack the hieroglyphic code with works by Frenchman Jean-François Champollion and Englishman Thomas Young.
  • Two spectacular illustrated books Description de l’Egypte (Description of Egypt) by Edmé-François Jomard which are also two of the largest books in the Library’s collection.
  • Published accounts and photographs of the discovery of the tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamun.
  • Works that show the visual and aesthetic influence of Ancient Egypt on the West, from Shakespeare to Art Deco.

Books & imagination

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, London, Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1832, Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria, acquisition supported by the Women Writers Fund

Books hold the world’s stories: from the earliest known myths and legends to postmodern fictions. They are also keys that unlock inner worlds. At a fundamental level, books facilitate empathy, allowing us to imagine ourselves as other than who we are.

The Books & imagination section of World of the Book explores:

  • A showcase on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which is considered the first true science-fiction novel and a masterpiece of Gothic and Romantic literature.
  • Art Critic John Ruskin’s chess set forms the centrepiece of an interconnected story about chess and the bond between Ruskin, Henry Liddell and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). In Carroll’s classic book Through the Looking-glass, Alice finds herself in a life-sized chess game.
  • A compelling display exploring the way graphic novels, comics and zines tackle the complexity of migration through illustration. 

Art & nature

James Sowerby, Coloured Figures of English Fungi or Mushrooms, vol. 1, London, printed by J. Davis, 1797, Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria

Botanical illustration unites the scientific with the artistic. Since ancient times, text and image have been used to record observations of nature. Even with today’s digital photography, botanical drawing remains the finest means of understanding and representing plant life.

The Art & nature section of World of the Book includes:

  • A special display on mycology, or the study of mushrooms and fungi, by women at University of Melbourne’s Botany Department during the 1930s and 40s.
  • Items on display include notebooks, botanical specimens, scientific documentation and published works, drawn from the Eileen Fisher Papers which are held in the Library’s Manuscripts Collection.

From tablet to codex & beyond: the history of the book

Watch Principal Librarian Dr Anna Welch show how changes in the physical form of the book have led to the bound book as we know it, and at the same time, have revolutionised the way we take in information and ideas.

Watch the videos

Lifelike painting of birds among foliage

Browse this curated set of videos to deepen your understanding of the book's rich tradition and its ongoing contribution to contemporary life.

Read the book

The World of the Book celebrates manuscripts and publications in all their varying forms. Sumptuously illustrated with rare items from State Library Victoria's collections, this treasure chest of a book invites idle browsing as much as avid reading.

Discover the world of books in our collection

Ulysses novel inside cover

View Ulysses in the collection.

Uncover the amazing breadth of the Library's Rare Books collection.

Marvel at old, valuable, famous and beautiful works – including our collection of medieval manuscripts and many significant first editions – and discover the fascinating history of the book as a tangible object, from cuneiform tablet to contemporary artists' books.

Explore our past exhibition

View the online galleries of the past iteration of the World of the book exhibition.