I distinctly remember my mother taking me to sign up for my first library card as a preschooler but I do not actually remember my parents ever taking me to the library (don’t feel too bad for me, it’s just that Barnes & Noble was a more frequent destination). Like many of my fellow millennials, my most formative library was the one in Beauty and the Beast. It took up residence in my heart as the library that all other libraries would be stacked up against.
As we get older, we find our own libraries. They may not have that Beauty and the Beast factor, but they become ours nonetheless. I still think about my middle school’s library, which is no longer a middle school library, and remember what it was like to discover V.C. Andrews and feel like the first person who ever read Flowers in the Attic. Other libraries I have loved have had violently orange carpet, a catwalk between reference sections, and an oversized local landmark in the entrance. None of my libraries have ever had those cool wheeled ladders, but their stepstools worked just as well.
As an adult who frequents the library, I can’t pull out and try on various futures for myself, as in The Midnight Library, but I have always found what I needed nonetheless. I have collected some libraries in fictional worlds that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
The Scholomance Library from Naomi Novik’s Scholomance Series
Not all libraries are good libraries. El finds a lot of things in the school library, despite the ever-present threat of bodily harm from the mals that infest her school. There she finds the book could be her ticket out of the Scholomance and into a life of ease and comfort…and also the creature that ate her dad. At any rate, it’s memorable.
Obi Library from Nnedi Okorafor’s Nsibidi Scripts Series
In Akata Witch, Sunny meets with her mentor, Sugar Cream in the Obi Library, which contains the greatest collection of knowledge in Western Africa. The economy of the Leopard People actually comes from attaining knowledge (as opposed to the economy of the non-magical Lambs which is, of course based on commerce), so the library is enormous and central to the plot, full of tiny red spiders, and central to the action of the series. Somehow, despite everything, it’s those little red spiders for me.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Imagine a library that contains the story of your life, as well as the stories of every other life you might have lived. This is the Midnight Library, and the dilemma faced by Nora Seed. Should she change her life and follow her dreams? What makes a single life worth living? This is the library for anyone who has ever wondered “what if…?”
The Archived by Victoria Schwab
There is a place just outside of our world where the souls of the dead are shelved. These souls are called Histories. The Librarians can read the Histories but sometimes they escape and it is up to Keepers like Mackenzie Bishop to bring them back. I loved the concept of this series and I hold out hope that I will someday find out what happens to Mackenzie and her friends in the final book.
The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu
“Less a building, and more sculputure,” the Library of the Dead was carved out of black rock and is full of white marble statues. It is the repository of all of Scotland’s magical knowledge and access is limited. Ropa, a ghostalker, runs into trouble when her friend sneaks her inside to help solve the mystery of what is happening to the local children.
The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean
On the moors of Yorkshire, there is a clan of people for whom books are food. Once consumed, they can remember all of a book’s content (truly, a dream). Devon, a book eater, was raised on a diet of conventional books — but what is she to do as the mother of a son whose tastes run to human minds? The family libraries in this book are described with flavors that remind us of our own individual tastes — and some of them are even full of dragons.
Old Library in Babel by R.F. Kuang
Robin Swift, an orphan brought to London from China, lives in a world in which magic is worked through translation. Raised by a mysterious academic, he is expected to enter Babel, the world’s center for translation at Oxford. Caught between his studies at Babel and the Hermes Society which is against the ongoing imperial expansion brought about by language-based silver working, Robin must decide whether he can continue to be part of the institution he is in or whether violent revolution is necessary. There are many libraries mentioned in Babel since it’s based on Oxford University, but I was most taken by Old Library, the library given a mundane name because it was meant to go unnoticed.
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
As a child, Carolyn and her siblings were taken in by the man they call Father, and raised in a library that contains all of the secrets of the universe. They were normal children once but now they are something else and grew up wondering if their father and tutor might be God. When Father goes missing, Carolyn must create a plan for control of the library. Parts of this book have stayed with me for years — it is truly unforgettable.
The Library at Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
This one is very specific but it unlocks a memory for me. After rejecting Darcy, Elizabeth explores Pemberley and decides that “to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” Austen remarks that the library at Pemberley was “the work of many generations.” I will never forget one of my professors taking a moment to ask whether any of us had a library in our homes that was the work of many generations. One student raised his hand. The professor commented that decades before, most of his students would have come from homes with family libraries. As Elizabeth learns from her trip to Pemberley, there is a lot you can learn about people from what was in the homes they grew up in. It was in this moment that I learned exactly how much is revealed in the quiet moments in books.
I hope you take the opportunity to visit some of these libraries — even if you, perhaps, don’t want to stay for very long (looking at you, Scholomance). Want to turn your home into a mini-library? Check this post on creating a dark academia bookshelf aesthetic or, if that’s not your thing, six other home library aesthetics.