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“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
These words belong to Jorge Luis Borges, an author who worked as a librarian and was in love with both books and libraries.
For many readers, a library isn’t just a storage space for books.
If you ask me, it’s another world, a reservoir of my inner power and knowledge, a magical place, where some unusual chemistry is wafting in the air.
Magic starts happening the moment my nostrils get a hold of that heady fragrance of books crammed into the shelves.
As much as I adore these treasure-houses of wisdom, as much I love stories about libraries that likewise leave an unforgettable imprint in my mind.
That’s why I decided to share this collection of the best non-fiction and fiction books about libraries.
You’ll also find out the secrets of a librarian’s career and laugh at some hilarious cases that happen in between the stacks described by librarians in their memoirs.
So, let’s open the doors of different libraries and peer into their deepest corners.
4 Non-fiction Books About Libraries
The Library: A World History by James Campbell (Photography by Will Pryce)
When James Campbell, an art historian, and Will Pryce, an architectural photographer, returned from a world trip, they impressed the readership with one of the greatest picture books about libraries.
The two visited and documented more than 80 world libraries.
The eight chapters cover the following historical periods:
- Ancient times
- Middle Age
- Sixteenth century
- Seventeenth century
- Eighteenth century
- Nineteenth century
- Twentieth century
- Electronic era
From the ancient Roman Library of Celsus that could hold 12 thousand papyrus scrolls to the Rococo bookshelves of the magnificent Mafra Palace Library with over 36 thousand volumes.
Their aesthetics and majesty touched me to the very core of my soul.
Others instilled awe and wonder in me with their mysteries in the cellars or concrete and steel in their modern finery.
Enjoy this in-depth research married to graphic artwork – buy the book.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
“It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever,” says Susan Orlean.
Despite the sense of eternity it creates, the library itself isn’t immortal or invincible.
As cruel as it may sound, this temple of wisdom can be turned into ashes in seconds.
In this book, Susan Orlean tells a true crime story of the 1986 Los Angeles Central Library fire.
It’s the largest library fire in US history that damaged 700,000 books and destroyed half a million more.
At times, it reads like a work of fiction, a fictitious crime mystery that shook America in the 80s. Yet, it is true.
Susan Orlean did amazing research on this topic as a journalist and exquisite literary work as an author of such NYT bestsellers as The Orchid Thief and Rin Tin Tin.
The Library Book was nominated for the 2018 Goodreads Choice Award in the Nonfiction category.
The Book Lovers’ Anthology by Bodleian Library
Can a single book lead to madness?
Find the answer in this anthology.
The world-known poets, writers, and essayists share their thoughts on books and libraries. Sometimes, they talk about them with apprehension, other times with humor but always with affection.
You’ll also get inspired by the exceptional quotes of people who filled up these “wardrobes of literature” with their masterpieces. Like Shakespeare or Dickens, for example.
It’s definitely a must-have title for every book addict’s library.
BiblioTech by John Palfrey
Are libraries doomed in the digital age?
Today’s libraries are in danger, that’s for sure. The book discusses in detail the problems facing libraries in this century.
As global modernization and digitalization are spreading by leaps and bounds, the author seeks ideas to breathe new life into libraries.
He contemplates on the possibility to “hack” a traditional library and build a new future for it.
What measures should be undertaken to preserve a library?
It’s a must-read for avid library readers and those who are not indifferent to the destiny of these social institutions.
7 Fiction Books About Libraries
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Would you change anything in your life, if you had such a chance?
When Nora finds herself between life and death, this place happens to be a magical library, where with every new book, she can live another life.
The Midnight Library is a Goodreads Winner for Best Fiction in 2020 and one of the top ten light academia novels on our list.
Get it from Amazon and brood over an existential-philosophical idea of choice.
Babel by R. F. Kuang
A Goodreads Nominee for Best Fantasy (2022), Babel is a masterpiece written by Rebecca Kuang, a translator and NYT bestselling writer.
It’s a perfect blend of sci-fi fantasy and historical fiction set in the 1830s that tells a story of colonialism, revolutions, and the magic of words.
Robin, a Chinese lad, joins a translator’s program at Oxford University.
He studies in Babel Tower, a library-workshop and an enigmatic place where magic silver-work with languages can be used to speed a warship or direct a missile, for instance.
But when the long-lasting conflict between the British Empire and China is turning into war, he must decide: to join a rebellious movement or to stay loyal to Britain.
Can he betray his motherland?
Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern
What do most people look for in libraries?
Some search for the needed information there, others – for calmness and peace. But there are people who find friendship.
That’s the case in this book.
Three characters, each with a personal soul-crushing experience, get united in this story:
- Kit – a librarian in her forties who tries to forget her previous life and soothe her wounds in a peaceful public library
- Sunny – a teenage girl who’s caught as a book thief and has to do community service in that very library
- Rusty – a Wall Street refugee who wants to start his life afresh
There’s an invisible connection between them.
Summer Hours at the Robbers Library proves that the best story isn’t necessarily found on the library’s bookshelves. It can happen in the library itself.
This book is available on Amazon.
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
That’s where it all happens.
Sip some magical realism and some bits of horror in this illustrated tale about an eerie library.
It’s undeniably a stand-out among all other books about libraries.
Just like Alice fell down into the rabbit burrow, you’ll go headlong into The Strange Library, with its surrealism and ambiguities masterfully underlined by Murakami.
One of Goodreads reviewers fairly noticed that it incorporates some kafkaesque and borgesian elements, “with a dash of Orwell”.
Well, you can check it yourself – grab your copy and “go straight down the corridor to Room 107”.
The Name of The Rose by Umberto Eco
What about libraries with disguised passageways, hidden rooms, secret codes, powerful numbers, and deaths lurking over the corners of towering bookshelves?
If you’re having a hard time sitting still and the will to mystery is taking over, this 1980 debut novel by Umberto Eco is definitely for you.
It’s a bookish labyrinth story set in an Italian monastery of the fourteenth century.
A library becomes the key to decipher the puzzle of all the murders that happen in the abbey.
William of Baskerville, a Franciscan friar, and Adso of Melk, a novice of the Benedictine order, will have to check it from corner to corner, if they want to find a serial killer.
Here’s your copy to savor Umberto Eco’s immaculate writing, with his unique pace and rhythm that produce a palpable experience of your transformation as a reader.
The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill
Every library hides so many enigmas…
Let’s solve this one.
This time, it’s a mystery thriller set in the Boston Public Library.
When a woman is found dead in the library, the four strangers from the reading room become the suspects.
Who’s the actual murderer?
If you think this is a simple whodunit, you’re SO mistaken.
You can buy the book on Amazon.
Once you finish reading this intricate story, you may also enjoy the books by Tana French, a detective writer, or other mind-blowing mysteries by similar authors on this list.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
Although it’s a fictional tale, it’s based on a true story of Belle da Costa Greene, an American librarian who ran the Pierpont Morgan Library for 43 years.
J. P. Morgan, a banker and financier, hired her to take care of his rarities – books and manuscripts – collected in his library.
Greene appeared to be one of the most impactful figures in the world of books at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Discover how this sharp-witted and elegant woman tried to keep a devastating secret that could ruin everything for her at that time.
It’s one of my favorite historical fiction books about librarians who altered the history of the library for good, and for better.
4 Biographies and Memoirs of Librarians
Library on Wheels by Sharlee Glenn
As you can judge by the title, it isn’t a book about a traditional library.
In just 56 pages, you’ll get acquainted with Mary Lemist Titcomb, an innovative librarian who revolutionized the library and invented… Yup, a library on wheels, aka bookmobile.
It’s a great illustrated biography of the extraordinary librarian. Titcomb pushed career and gender boundaries at the beginning of the twentieth century and managed to achieve goals with unbelievable motivation.
She dreamed of developing a library that could reach every person in the county, not only the town dwellers.
“The book goes to the man, not waiting for the man to come to the book.” – Mary Lemist Titcomb
Even though it belongs to the category of children’s books about libraries, it appeals to adults as well.
Running the Books by Avi Steinberg
“Pimps make the best librarians. Psycho killers, the worst.”
Avi Steinberg, catches you off guard with this statement at the very start of his memoir.
You’ll understand why after reading the whole story of his life as a prison librarian.
Just a few years out of Harvard, quite unexpectedly, Avi Steinberg finds himself working in Boston’s joint. Here, he’s nicknamed Bookie for a reason.
It’s a humorous and heartbreaking tale of a youngster who attempts to explore cultural aspects of prison, the power of books to change lives, and his own purpose in the world.
Librarian Tales by William Ottens
Another not less captivating memoir by a librarian, creator of the Tumblr blog Librarian Problems, and GIF-king of library-related content on Tumblr.
With a wonderful sense of humor, the author depicts both pitfalls and joys of librarianship in his exquisite manner.
“We [librarians] don’t just sit and read all day.” – William Ottens
In his book, William Ottens grabs you by the shoulders and shakes all the stereotypes about librarians out of you.
He also tells you what NEVER to say to a librarian.
What do you think were the weirdest and craziest things found in the racks of books?
Take a look into the behind-the-scenes of a librarian’s life and give yourself a ROFL with Librarian Tales.
The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne
At the end of this list, I put one of the best non-fiction books about librarians.
It’s an autobiography of a bodybuilding librarian who uses his force to fight Tourette’s syndrome.
Josh Hanagarne finds rescue in books and deadlifting and debunks so many myths about librarians.
He got me “drunk” with his enthusiasm about Stephen King’s works.
I was also amazed by his dedication to training in the library’s basement under the guidance of Adam T.
Glass, a “hard-ass” (according to the author) with a tattoo of the whole poem Invictus by William Henley on his left arm.
Consider reading this powerful story.
Full List of Books About Libraries
Libraries are gold mines of knowledge and experience.
In honor of these literary universes, here are the greatest books about libraries and librarians you might be excited to dive in:
- The Library Book by Susan Orlean
- The Book Lovers’ Anthology by Bodleian Library
- The Library: A World History by James Campbell
- BiblioTech by John Palfrey
- The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
- Babel by R. F. Kuang
- Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern
- The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
- The Name of The Rose by Umberto Eco
- The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill
- The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
- Library on Wheels by Sharlee Glenn
- Running the Books by Avi Steinberg
- The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne
- Librarian Tales by William Ottens
Btw, you can also jump to the comments section and share every single detail from your memory when you first entered a library.
What was it like? What does library mean to you?
The magic of being able to pull a book off of a shelf and explore any time or place in history ancient to modern times, delve into a fantasy, find interesting characters and how life is for them through their eyes, learn how to do anything, inspiration, and philosophy….the library never fails to delight.
As a child who was called gifted (which I always found uncomfortable) I’d say that the “gift” was not anything from me it was the magic and wonder of libraries.
We cannot agree more with your words! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!