Exhibitions at The Leeds Library

The Leeds Library’s exhibition programme aims to bring our collections to life through regular digital and in house displays. Each exhibition focuses on a theme and draws on books from both the historic and contemporary Library collections. Through this unique lens, we explore a multitude of historical and cultural subjects – from the UK and beyond. Here, you can dive into our digital archive to discover previous exhibitions and exclusive digital content.

A Pilgrimage of Mercy: Yorkshire’s Fight for the Rights of Factory Children in Victorian England. April – June 2024

The Victorian era is marked irrevocably by the industrial revolution – and so is Yorkshire. In this exhibition, we explore the deplorable conditions children worked under in Yorkshire’s Victorian textile factories and the fights to improve them that united thousands of Yorkshire labourers from all walks of life. Our centerpiece is the story of a 24,000-person strong march from Leeds to York and back again, and the man who organised it all: Richard Oastler, The Factory King. Click below to find out more!

The cover page for the A Pilgrimage of Mercy exhibition. It features the title and subheading of the exhibition over a purple-and-cream illustration of children working in a wool factory in 1835.


Stoking The Fires: 19th-21st Century Stories of Yorkshire’s Changing Industries. January – March 2024

From our home in the heart of Leeds, the Library has seen Yorkshire through the Industrial Revolution, Victorian population boom, 1940s munitions factories and beyond. Our history collection contains dozens of local stories from across all of these eras of industry. Through them, the wider history of Britain’s changing industries can be traced – which we explore through select case studies here!

First Principles: Tracing Developments in European Zoology Through 18th-20th Century Illustrations of Animals. September – November 2023

The Leeds Library has dozens of European natural sciences texts from throughout the 18th-20th Centuries – many of them carefully illustrated. These images show more than just their animal subjects, though. A careful reader can trace developments in zoology through the way illustrations of animals change over time. With the help of just a fraction of the Library’s historic natural sciences book collection, we will do just that! Start exploring below:

Yorkshire Art and Artists. May – August 2023

Yorkshire has a long and rich history of inspiring art and producing artists. From famous figures like David Hockney and Barbara Hepworth to lesser-known children’s illustrator Alice Goyder, this exhibition explores just a few of Yorkshire’s plethora of creatives and their work – including some new and exciting ones! Dive in to the colour and history below:

Yorkshire Art and Artists

Colonizing Myths and Legends: Exploring Western colonial attitudes in The Leeds Library’s Edwardian myths and legends books. January – April 2023

When selecting books for our Myths and Legends exhibition, we found many Edwardian books written by white British and American authors on the myths and legends of other cultures. During this period, colonialist systems like the British Empire were large and well-established – as were the racist and colonialist attitudes they spread amongst the British and American people. The Leeds Library’s books about the cultures and myths of non-white and indigenous peoples record not only the interest that the British public had in the cultures it was colonizing but the attitudes they commonly held during the period. Find out more about these books and the real cultures they attempted to write about below!

Colonizing Myths and Legends

Tutankhamun: The Boy King Rediscovered. October 2022 – January 2023

In November 1922, Howard Carter and his archeological team uncovered the almost-intact tomb of Tutankhamun. For thousands of years, it had protected his body and over 5,300 ornate artifacts meant to furnish their king in his afterlife, and their glittering quality took the world by storm. So to celebrate 100 years since Tutankhamun’s rediscovery, we’ve explored his life, death, and legacy through the pages of our collection. Examine our findings below!

Tutankhamun: The Boy King Rediscovered

The Inventive Minds of John Smeaton and Johann Beckmann. September – October 2022

This exhibition explores some of the inventions, discoveries, and fascinations of John Smeaton and Johann Beckmann. Both were pioneers in their respective fields of invention, working in the late 18th Century to bring innovation to the use and examination of the public. We will explore their work and lives through the books in our collection, in collaboration with Heritage Open Day 2022.

Lusty Arms and Willing Hearts: The Inventive Minds of John Smeaton and Johann Beckmann.

Summer Holidays. July – August 2022

Everyone remembers the last week of school before the long six week holiday. The teachers seemed more relaxed (and who can blame them?) and some schools held sports days or something similar. For those lucky enough to be going on holiday, this meant packing either for abroad or the UK. The package holiday boom really began in the 1950s, but most families still holidayed in the UK which meant packing for every kind of weather! This exhibition takes a look at the summer holidays and explores where we go, what we do and of course, what we read!

Summer Holidays

100 Years Later: Ireland and the Leeds Irish. May – July 2022

This exhibition highlights books from our collection related to Ireland and the Irish. Its first half features works commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the partition of Ireland, when it became the Irish Free State under the 1922 Anglo-Irish Treaty. Six counties under Unionist control opted out, and the 1937 Irish constitution renamed ‘Southern Ireland’ to ‘Ireland’. The second half focuses on the Irish diaspora in Leeds, exploring what brought Irish immigrants to our city and their effect on it.

100 Years Later: Ireland and the Leeds Irish.

The History of Book Cover Design. June 2022

Our flagship digital exhibition traces the history of book cover design throughout the 20th century with examples drawn from The Leeds Library’s own collection. Focusing particularly on why publishers might choose to employ an illustrated cover, or one that is purely typographic, this exhibition also looks at some of the social and cultural history that has influenced book production over the last century.

Book cover design history and The Leeds Library’s collection.

Events at The Leeds Library