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World of the Book

Introducing World of the Book

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 from the State Collection, uncovering the 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 natural history
  • artists and books.

Plan your visit

Saturday, 25 May 2024 - 10:00amSunday, 18 May 2025 - 6:00pm
Dome Galleries, Level 4

Read our blogs

Image from Famous Jingles, which is part of the Joyful Tales series. The series contains 48 illustrations with jingles and jokes, printed in colour, from 1875. © American Antiquarian Society.

Artists & books

Hisui Sugiura, 三越カタログ (Mitsukoshi Katarogu; Mitsukoshi Catalogues). Tōkyō, Tōkyō Kabushiki Kaisha Mitsukoshi, c. 1920–32.

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 and books section of World of the Book includes:

  • An original Edo Period (17th century) Japanese manuscript of the first novel ever written, The Tale of Genji, acquired through the generous support of the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust.
  • A look at the impact of Art Deco in French and Japanese culture.
  • A display dedicated to the art of European woodblock printing in the Expressionist movement, including works from Lynd Ward, Fritz Eichenberg, Frans Masereel, Clare Leighton, and a copy of the first wordless graphic novel by a woman, Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichová.

Books & ideas

Book of hours, Paris, ca.1490, 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 and ideas section of World of the Book showcases:

  • A celebration of the 550th anniversary of the first printed book in English with a rare complete edition of William Caxton's Myrrour of the Worlde.
  • A display featuring recent acquisitions made through the Women Writers Fund of works about the suffrage movement, including Mary Wollstonecraft's feminist manifesto A Vindication of the Rights of Women, a Suffragette Hunger Strike Medal and a Holloway Prison brooch.
  • A focus on pilgrimage and the act of making a journey to a site of holy significance. It includes an early illustrated printed edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales printed in London, 1532.

Suffragettes: sacrifice, power & legacy

On 12 March, over 200 donors and Cultural members attended a very special event on the Suffragette Movement titled Suffragettes: sacrifice, power and legacy.

The Hon. Maxine McKew AM hosted the event in conversation with Krystyna Campbell-Pretty AM, Dr Anna Welch and Dr Helen Pankhurst, CBE. The Suffragette Movement was discussed in the context of items within the Women Writers Fund, the Pankhurst family, the movement's innovative methods of funding and its relevance today.

Artists & natural history

Martin King, Tree of Life, Diary of Lost Souls in Twenty Volumes, No. 1, 2022. Used by the kind permission of the artist.

All artists are in dialogue with art's history as well as its present. The Library's rich book collection has long been a source of inspiration for artists working in many media.

This display highlights the special resonance of our natural history collection for select Victorian artists whose work is concerned with the form of the book. The resulting artworks and artists' books have, in turn, been added to the State Collection.

Shown alongside the historical works that have inspired them, these contemporary artworks also celebrate the power of art as activism at a time when the fragility of our natural world has never been more evident.

The artists and natural history section of World of the Book features:

  • John Cotton's original sketchbooks of birds from the Port Phillip District (known as Victoria after its separation from the Colony of New South Wales in 1851).
  • A monumental work by Martin King, Tree of Life, Diary of Lost Souls in Twenty Volumes, created for the City of Melbourne's CLIMARTE exhibition that draws directly from John Cotton's sketchbooks and the beautiful Fitzroy Gardens.
  • A response to the natural history collection by contemporary Victorian artists' book creators Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, with their inspirational fusion of words, collages, drawings and prints.

Books & imagination

E. H. Shepard, Postcard of Winnie the Pooh, from the Scholastic Dromkeen Children's Literature Collection, State Library Victoria.

Books hold the world's stories, from the earliest known myths and legends to postmodern fiction. 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 and imagination section of World of the Book explores:

  • One of children's literature's most enduring characters, Winnie the Pooh. Including the first collaboration between A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard in Punch magazine, as well as a first-edition limited issue of Winnie-the-Pooh, printed in 1926.
  • Award-winning contemporary fiction writers, including a display of modern first editions by Haruki Murakami, gifted to the Library by Graham and Anita Anderson. Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison is also highlighted and includes numerous first editions acquired by the Library through the generosity of donations from the Women Writers Fund. For fantasy and speculative fiction lovers, a showcase by Philip Pullman includes signed first editions of his works.
  • The world of modern and historical 'peepshow' books is also on display, demonstrating the art of immersive 3-dimensional moveable pop-up books.

Art & nature

Samuel Calvert, What You Give?, Melbourne, David Syme and Co., 1884.

Botanical illustration unites the scientific with the artistic. Since ancient times, text and images 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 and nature section of World of the Book includes:

  • Displays on fern and seaweed specimen collecting in the 19th century. Pterodomania refers to someone who has been overcome with 'fern fever'.
  • A look at one of the most divisive of fruits, the durian. This special display includes George Eberhard Rumphius' 1750 catalogue of plants in the Malay archipelago.

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 works like Ulysses from the Rare Books Collection in the Heritage Collection Reading Room.

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 version of the World of the Book exhibition: