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World of the book 2022

Plan your visit

State Library dome level with white arches and balconies and black panel with white text: World of the Book
Thursday, 27 January 2022 - 10:00amSunday, 19 March 2023 - 6:00pm
Dome Galleries, Level 4

About the exhibition

Explore the rare, the sacred and the iconic 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.

Chart the rise, and restyling, of the beloved book – from a 4000-year-old clay tablet inscribed with the first written language, to early texts on Jewish mysticism and a 19th-century boxed set of the complete works of Jane Austen.

From books that break the mould to books that changed the world, World of the Book features more than 300 never-before-exhibited items, including works linked to Dante Alighieri, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Margaret Atwood, Jack Kerouac, Shaun Tan and more.

The exhibition explores five themes:

  • Books and ideas
  • Books and imagination
  • Exploring the world
  • Art and nature
  • Artists and books

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

Explore our virtual tour

Discover World of the book 2022 from wherever you are through our free, virtual tour.

Introducing World of the Book 2022

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.

Meet the curators

A man and a woman smiling at the camera

Des Cowley and Anna Welch

  • Des Cowley is Principal Librarian of 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.
  • Anna Welch is Senior Librarian of 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.

Exhibition labels

William Blake, The circle of the thieves

William Blake, The circle of the thieves. Agnello dei Brunelleschi attacked by a six-footed serpent, print taken in 1968 from a plate engraved 1824–27, ed. 21/25, 4th of 4 states, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Gift of Lessing J. Rosenwald, 1968, 1835.4-5. Reproduced by kind permission of the National Gallery of Victoria

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

Read our blogs

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

Artists & books

Two blue book covers

Angela Cavalieri and Peter Lyssiotis, Paradise, from –1316, Melbourne, Masterthief Enterprises, 2004, Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria. Reproduced by kind permission of Angela Cavalieri and Peter Lyssiotis

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 a focused display of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, in celebration of the 700th anniversary of the poet’s death, including Tom Phillips’ Inferno (1983), often described as the most significant artist’s book of the 20th century.

Books & ideas

Black, red and orange book cover

Martin Luther KING, Jr, Where do we go from here: chaos or community?, New York, Harper and Row, c. 1967, cover design by Ronald Clyne, 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:

  • medieval manuscripts and early printed books
  • sacred texts from around the world and from different religious traditions
  • a display exploring the self in society, from Descartes to Martin Luther King Jr.

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

Watch Senior 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.

Exploring the world

Front page of a book

Owen Jones, Plans, elevations, sections and details of the Alhambra, vol. 1, London, Owen Jones, 1842–45, Rare Books Collection, State Library Victori

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.

The Exploring the world section of World of the book features:

  • books that catapulted big ideas around the globe long before the internet, including the first detailed study of the Alhambra, a masterpiece of Islamic design
  • richly illustrated works of natural history, including a special display exploring the first European images of the native Australian lyrebird, and Audubon’s ground-breaking Birds of America

Audubon's astonishing 'Birds of America'

Hear Principal Librarian Des Cowley reveal the intriguing stories behind John James Audubon's astonishing work of art – and one of the the greatest works of book art, ever – Birds of America.

Books & imagination

Open pages of a book with illustrations

Jane Austen, Emma, vol.2, from The Novels of Jane Austen... With coloured illustrations by C.E. and H.M. Brock, London, J.M. Dent, 1897, Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria

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:

  • famous works from the literary canon, including a boxed set of the complete works of Jane Austen
  • a collection of first-edition novels by Margaret Atwood
  • a special display of sketches, sculpture, photography and published editions by acclaimed children’s author Shaun Tan.

Art & nature

open book with lily illustration and text

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 covers botanical art and landscape design from the 16th century to today, with a special focus on the history of garden design books.

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.

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.

Explore our past exhibition

Yellow and black book cover.

The yellow book an illustrated quarterly. 1894/1897

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

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.

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.