World of the book

About the exhibition

Explore a wealth of ideas and imagination in World of the book, a 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, and stunning modern artist books and fine press editions. Discover pioneering Australian classics, children’s books, graphic novels and comics, and cutting-edge graphic design.

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.

The exhibition explores five themes:

This exhibition opened in 2005 as Mirror of the world: books and ideas. In 2017, it reopened as World of the book.

Plan your visit

State Library dome level with white arches and balconies and black panel with white text: World of the Book

Hours: daily 10am–6pm; open until 9pm on Thursdays

Monday, 1 January 2018Monday, 31 December 2018
Dome Galleries, Level 4

Behind the scenes

Watch a short time-lapse video of the installation of the World of the book exhibition in the iconic Dome Galleries.

Books & ideas

Detail from a book of hours, Bruges, c 1480

Detail from Book of Hours (use of York), Bruges, c 1480, Rare Books collection

Marvel at our 'Books & ideas' online gallery that showcases:

  • medieval manuscripts and early printed books
  • sacred texts from around the world and from different religious traditions
  • books that changed the world, including key works of philosophy and science.

Books & imagination

Inky watercolour of elfin children on a tree bough

Mother Goose: the old nursery rhymes, illustrated by Arthur Rackham, William Heinemann, London, 1913, Rare Books collection

Lose yourself in our 'Books & imagination' online gallery and explore:

  • famous works from the literary canon (such as Chaucer, Dante and Shakespeare)
  • modernist classics and the works of the Beat generation
  • children’s books
  • Australian authors
  • graphic novels and comics, and pulp fiction.

Exploring the world

The ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tedmor, in the Desart, Robert Wood, London, 1753, Rare Books collection

Stop over in our 'Exploring the world' online gallery to see:

  • atlases and maps from European voyages of discovery from the 16th century onwards, with a special focus on Australia and the South Pacific
  • illustrated travel accounts, including some of the earliest uses of photography
  • richly illustrated works of natural history.

Art & nature

Intricate colour drawing of a banksia flower

Illustrationes florae Novae Hollandiae, Ferdinand Bauer, Veneunt apud auctorem, London, 1813, Rare Books collection

Peer into our 'Art & nature' online gallery to see 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.

Artists & books

Japanese print of a mountain tiger looking at the moon

Hokusai Manga, Katsushika Hokusai, Yoshikawa Hanshichi, Tokyo, 1814–78 (a later printing), Rare Books collection

Pore over our 'Artists & books' online gallery, including:

  • fine press work from William Morris and contemporaries
  • fine bindings from the medieval period to today
  • Japanese woodblock printed books and artists’ books.

Exhibition labels

De dissectione partium corporis humani (On the dissection of parts of the human body), Charles Estienne, Paris, Simonem Colinaeum, 1545, Rare Books collection

Download the World of the book exhibition labels to discover the rich and varied history of the book, from the Middle Ages to the present day.

Discover the world of books in our collection

James Joyce's 'Ulysses', Shakespeare and Company, Paris, 1922

Ulysses, James Joyce, Shakespeare and Company, Paris, 1922, Rare Books 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.

Read the book

black background with book cover featuring covers of a number of books

Updated in a new paperback edition for 2017, 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.

About the curators

Two women stand either side of a man in front of a wooden podium

(Left to right): Carolyn Fraser, Des Cowley, Anna Welch

  • Des Cowley is History of the Book manager at State Library Victoria, and co-author of The world of the book.
  • Carolyn Fraser is Lead Curator at State Library Victoria. She has a particular interest in the history of printing and other craft practices.
  • Anna Welch works in the History of the Book collection at State Library Victoria. An historian specialising in the study of medieval manuscripts, she has been part of World of the book’s curatorial team since 2011.

Rare Book Week

Photo of people looking at a rare book

Rare Book Week is an annual, Melbourne-wide program of free talks and events that celebrate the importance of books, literacy and literature in our lives. It has been a key event in Melbourne’s literary calendar since 2012.

Watch the videos

six people in conversation seated on a stage

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

Main image captions

Main image clockwise from top left:

  • Rick Amor, woodcut illustration for Edgar Allan Poe, The raven, Cobargo, NSW, Croft Press, 1990), Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria; reproduced with kind permission of Rick Amor.
  • Liber antiphonarius Romanus [Roman antiphonal], Germany, copied by scribe Sister Judoca van Malsen, 1566, Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria.
  • Tony Single, 'Wish you were here', in Tango one two three, edited by Bernard Caleo (Melbourne, Cardigan Comics, 1999), Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria; reproduced with kind permission of Tony Single and Bernard Caleo.
  • Dorothy Herel, Text vest – Jabberwocky, linen fibre paper, silk and letterpress (Losne, printed by Thierry Bouchard, 1991; stitched by Dorothy and Petr Herel, No. 15/20), Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria, Gift of Petr Herel; reproduced by kind permission of Petr Herel.
  • Samuel Wells, mask of Charles Dickens (detail), [1918], Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria.
  • Chiromantia [Chiromancy] (Padua, Matthaeus Cerdonis, 1484), History of the Book 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.
  • 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.