Thursday, 17 June 2010


“A good book is never exhausted. It goes on whispering to you from the wall. Books perfume and give weight to a room. A bookcase is as good as a view, as the sight of a city or a river. There are dawns and sunsets in books – storms, fogs, zephyrs.

I read about a family whose apartment consists of a series of spaces so strictly planned that they are obliged to give away their books as soon as they’ve read them. I think they have misunderstood the way books work.

Reading a book is only the first step in the relationship. After you’ve finished it, the book enters on its real career. It stands there as a badge, a blackmailer, a monument, a scar. It’s both a flaw in the room, like a crack in the plaster, and a decoration. The contents of someone’s bookcase are part of his history, like an ancestral portrait.” - Anatole Broyard

I was able to go into the State Library of Victoria this week as I was researching for a submission that I was writing, and when I finished my job quite rapidly (given the efficiency of the librarians!) I went up to the Dome Galleries and had a look at the special exhibition there. The library is an architectural and cultural gem in our City, at the corner of Swanson and LaTrobe Sts. Melbourne architect Joseph Reed, who later designed the Melbourne Town Hall and the iconic Royal Exhibition Building won the commission of the Library building in 1853. The first part of the building was completed in 1859, but the magnificent dome was not finished until 1913. The library underwent major refurbishments between 1990 and 2004.

The “Mirror of the World” exhibition, which is housed in the Dome Galleries on levels 4, 5 and 6 showcases many of the rare, beautiful and historically significant books held in the Library’s collections. These galleries overlook the magnificent La Trobe Reading Room and one not only enjoys the superlative collection of books on show, but also admires the architecture of the library and has bird’s eye views of the reading room. The exhibition’s title is taken from William Caxton’s “Myrrour of the Worlde” (1490), one of the first illustrated books published in England, which is displayed in the exhibition.

The exhibition highlights the invaluable place that books have in our hearts and minds. It provides an overview of the history of book production, design and illustration, with well-chosen fine examples of amazing books from the Library’s collections dating from the Middle Ages to the present day. For a bibliophile like me, this exhibition was an amazing experience and I lingered there all through my lunchtime, forgetting hunger, forgetting food, not even thinking of eating. The nourishment of my soul took precedence and I could almost taste a pleasurable sweetness in my mouth as my eyes took in the marvels of the exhibition.

The exhibition is divided into five major themes:
•    “Books and Ideas”, outlining the early history of books and printing;
•    “The Book and the Imagination”, which looks at the way books and texts are imaginatively created, while at the same time acting imaginatively upon us;
•    “Exploring the World” that investigates how books have been used to explore and document the world including, its landscape, topography, inhabitants, flora and fauna;
•    “Art and Nature”, looking at how botanical illustrations unite the scientific and artistic worlds; and,
•    “The Artist and the Book”, which highlights the art of the book and the role of the artist in its production.

If you are in Melbourne and have not been to see this exhibition, do go and see it, it definitely worth it!

bibliophile |ˈbiblēəˌfīl| noun
A person who collects or has a great love of books: He is such a bibliophile that he had to extend his house in order to have room for his ever-growing collection of books.
bibliophilic |ˌbiblēəˈfilik| adjective
bibliophily |ˌbiblēˈäfəlē| noun
ORIGIN early 19th century: From French, from Greek biblion ‘book’ + philos ‘loving.’


  1. I'm probably a bit of a bibliophile, too, but my actual present collection doesn't reflect my love of books at all.

    I've always hated losing books, throwing them out or having to give them away, but unfortunately that's what happened to too many of those I've had throughout the years...though trying to now re-build my collection.

    Libraries and book shops are so very different now, and can be quite busy, bustling wee places with all sorts of things going on...the one thing that doesn't change is that book lovers will still spend hours losing themselves in all that's on the shelves/displays..

    Sounds like an enjoyable time spent in the course of your research.

  2. Oh yes! The library is a true delight, architecturally speaking. I am so proud of the patrons who wanted Melbourne to be a centre of world culture, even though the city had barely started. And proud of the architect Joseph Reed.

    It must have been a well used space on that city block! The first part of the building was completed in 1859, as you noted, but the buildings built in 1866 for the Intercolonial Exhibition were still being used by the library almost throughout the Edwardian period. I have seen the images - even then, Melbournians loved their library!