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.
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
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 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
The Library of the Hourglass Institute
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.
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 ]