On the Couch with Dr Anna Welch and Des Cowley

State-Library-Victoria-Des-Cowley-and-Dr-Anna-Welch-photo-by-Abigail-VarneyWho is Dr Anna Welch and Des Cowley?
Anna and Des are librarians and curators at State Library Victoria. They work closely together curating the Library’s World of the Book exhibition. On a good day, they have their heads stuck in rare and esoteric rare books, ranging from the 11th century to now, endlessly discovering new things.

What would you do differently from what you do now?
We’ve both worked with books, in one form or another, for most of our working lives. What else would choose to do?

Who inspires you and why?
We are inspired by creative people – people who have ideas, research, write, draw, engrave, make music. It doesn’t matter to us whether they did this in the 14th century or last week.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
We feel like we do it every day, sharing our knowledge and passion with others on a daily basis, and helping continue the Library’s founding mission as a place of free, secular and democratic access to learning.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
At the moment, anywhere outside of Australia would do the trick. A beach on the Italian coastline would hit the spot. Some time in London wouldn’t go astray.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
Des is likely to drag them to jazz clubs around Melbourne, a city boasting the most exciting scene in the country. A visit to the NGV is always on the itinerary for Anna’s guests – the medieval galleries and the glorious Leonard French ceiling of the Great Hall are non-negotiable stops.

What are you currently reading?
Des just finished reading Javier Marias’s novel All Souls, set in Oxford, narrated by a character who spends too much time in rare bookshops. Anna is reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Poems to Night (1916), in a beautiful recent edition translated by Will Stone – perfect for these endless hot summer nights.

What are you currently listening to?
Des has been listening to Luke Howard’s solo piano outing All that is not Solid, an hour of pianistic minimalism that can break your heart. Anna is listening to the 50th anniversary edition of George Harrison’s All things must pass – it’s sounding better than ever.

Happiness is?
Unpacking the box that just landed from London containing the latest rare book the State Library has just acquired.

What does the future hold for you?
The Library is a hub where people from all walks of life meet. We envisage a future full of fascinating people, sharing their stories, knowledge and enthusiasm.

World of the Book 2022 features more than 300 of the state’s rarest books in a free exhibition showcasing the history of book design, production and illustration from the Middle Ages to today.

The exhibition charts 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, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Shaun Tan and James Joyce.

Dr Anna Welch is the Senior Librarian of History of the Book and Arts. Des Cowley is Principal Librarian of History of the Book and Arts. They are co-curator’s of World of the book, on display until 19 February 2023 at the State Library Victoria. For more information, visit: www.slv.vic.gov.au for details.

Image: Des Cowley and Dr Anna Welch – photo by Abigail Varney