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Saturday, 12 February 2011

Saturday Spotlight: Guest Post: The Magic and Wonder of Libraries by Richard Denning

When I was kindly invited to do a guest post here the subject that was suggested was libraries and what impact they have had on me. At first I thought - heck what on earth do I write about. But then you start thinking and before long a great many popped into mind. Some of these are real, some have not existed for a long time and some mythical or fictional but all have had a profound impact on me.

You see, I love books. I always have done since I begged to be taught how to read at the age of about four. My parents were keen readers too and although we did not have a particularly large book collection at home we were frequent users of libraries and so new books of all types would turn up every few weeks. My uncle had a bedroom where I would stay on visits to him when about eight years old. This was a spare room and was piled high with books of all types. The first time I saw and read The Lord of the Rings was in that room. I loved visits there and would stay up late at night reading books which I had never come across before.

As a teenager I loved dropping into the local library in Warwick. This was at first in an old building next to St Mary's Church where many an Earl of Warwick was buried. Later it moved to a less atmospheric but larger modern building. I would spend hours reading there and borrowing mystery stories, history, fantasy and sci fi.

University Libraries

I was a medical student at Manchester University. The main John Ryland's Library was hardly an attractive building but it did seem vast to me when I went there in 1985 and, like the University library in Birmingham where my wife later did a Phd, it contains huge stacks of books. It is the sort of place you can get lost in and impresses with the vast number of volumes it contains. You almost feel like you are learning something just by walking along.

Impressive as the Manchester University main library was there is another smaller but much older library in Manchester that has been called on the 12 most beautiful in the world. It is Chetham's Library and dates back to 1653. It houses thousands of early printed books, manuscripts, diaries and genealogical records. It is possible to visit and if you are researching your family history you may even find it worthwhile. For atmosphere and beauty it is well worth a look.

Other old libraries

It is currently not possible to access the Old Reading Room of the British Library as building work is going on in the British Museum, BUT I hope they reopen it soon because for me this huge circular room is almost a Wonder of the World. Around the outside is a collection of works by the vast number of famous authors who at one time laboured there. It is now really just an index to the main collection which has moved elsewhere and in the modern age almost irrelevant as you can look up most of the books online. But what a wonderful place to visit.

If you are ever in Oxford and enjoy libraries, book yourself into to a tour of the Old Bodleian Library. The history you will learn is fascinating enough but for me the high point of the visit is seeing the massive leather bound volumes that are literary chained to the shelves so valuable are they.

Mythical and Fictional Libraries

Books chained to shelves brings me on neatly to libraries that I would love to visit were I able to.

The Library of the Unseen University

This is the library in the magical university in Terry Prachett's wonderful Diskworld. The library has so many powerful books in it that they exert a magical effect on the surroundings and warp space. So, like the Tardis, the library is bigger on the inside than the outside. It is supposed to go on forever and have openings into other dimensions. It's a dangerous place but sounds really fascinating.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

The library here is perhaps a bit tamer than the Unseen University BUT the way it is depicted in the books and movies always drew me in. I loved the face jumping out of one volume in the first book as well as the idea of "restricted" sections and spells for everything being there somewhere.

The Great Library of Alexandria

This library was destroyed during Julia Caesar's time in Egypt but was considered to have housed the greatest collections of scrolls from ancient times. When it burnt to the ground it took with it some of the finest works of the best thinkers and philosophers the world had known. A true disaster indeed. Possibly one of the ideas which got me thinking about a time travel novel was pondering that it would be nice to be able to go back and visit it. Maybe rescue some of the scrolls.

The Library of the Hourglass Institute

It is hardly a surprise given how libraries have had such an effect on me that I made something of the collection in the Hourglass Institute in my novel Tomorrow's Guardian:

Fuming, he stomped off down the hallway. He almost opened the dining room door, but then he heard Charlie laugh and Mary giggle and feeling that he could not face them all right now, he went through to the library and drifted about the room, scanning the spines of books vaguely, while he tried to think.

The Professor had a large collection of books on more or less every subject, yet here, just like in his office, the emphasis was on history, maps and politics. It appeared the Institute needed its Walkers to have access to as much accurate information as possible on all the times and places they might have to visit. Idly, Tom wondered what happened if history was changed. Would the contents of the books change? He supposed they must do; unless a Walker was carrying the book back in time whilst the effect of changing time occurred. That is what had happened to Tom, of course. What had Septimus called him? An anomaly, a paradox? Something that could not exist and yet did ...

The Magic of Libraries

It is striking how often Libraries figure in fiction and in particular fantasy novels. Then again it is hardly surprising because all libraries, just like all books, are in some way a little bit magical. The older the building and the older the books the more the effect, but to me there is a sense of wonder, a feeling of peace and a vast sensation of potential for knowledge and adventure that these places have. As such It has been fun to conduct this little tour down memory lane and I hope you enjoyed the trip.

Richard Denning

Tomorrow's Guardian Paperback Published: January 2011

ISBN: 9780956483560 (Hourglass Institute Series Book 1) Published by Mercia Books.

Sequel is coming Spring 2011

Thank you very much for such a wonderful post about libraries. I have added the beautiful libraries in England to my list of places to visit, my husband and children will be delighted [ : D ]


  1. Did you hear in the news this week that Manchester City Council is closing all it's libraries? That is so sad. So many people will loose out on the joy of reading :(

    I would love to see the Old Reading Room at the British Library. It looks amazing from that photograph. I'm sure I would just stand there in awe for hours!

    Another library I'd love to visit that you've mentioned is Hogwarts. How cool would that be?

  2. I am desperate to see the Bodlian library in Oxford. I think that may have to be a weekend visit. I would love to see the Old Reading Room in London too. They are both so beautiful. What a great post, sorry I missed it yesterday. Having a weekend off from the blogging world to recharge!

  3. Woo - I saw Vivienne mention this on twitter. I am currently sitting in the Bodleian library as that is where I work and alas I work on Sundays!

  4. TSB - that makes me so sad. All the more reason people need to be aware of these wonderful libraries before they are gone :(

    Viv - thank you for spreading the word - enjoy your break :D

    Verity - what an awesome place to work. You want to do me a guest post *flutters eyelashes*

  5. What an absolutely wonderful guest post! I loved hearing about all of those libraries! I too would love to visit the Discworld library and just hearing about the destruction of the Alexandria library makes me incredibly sad.

    I have so many wonderful memories of libraries growing up.

  6. What a great post. So many incredible buildings x


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