In an age when libraries must clamor to justify their existence, and serve as battlegrounds for social issues ranging from homelessness to feminism to free speech (or any combination thereof), it can be easy to lose sight of the simple pleasures this institution still affords to anyone who darkens their local branch’s door – particularly those who lack books of their own, or a quiet place in which to read them.
It’s important to remember that the history of libraries is full of such battles. While it’s widely believed that the great Alexandrian library burned to the ground, history paints a much thornier picture. According to Wikipedia’s source, “The library actually declined gradually over the course of roughly 800 years, starting with the purging of intellectuals from Alexandria in 145 BC during the reign of Ptolemy VIII Physcon, which resulted in Aristarchus of Samothrace, the last recorded head librarian, resigning from his position and exiling himself to Cyprus.”
To this day, those who’ve grown up exploring the world (and themselves) through books tend to regard libraries as a temple or sacred space – in which a librarian serves a Magister Templi, guiding pilgrims on quests both esoteric and mundane. The following quotes may help rekindle your appreciation for that local building that houses so many mysteries.
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 1998
“’That’s what Hermione does,’ said Ron, shrugging. ‘When in doubt, go to the library.”
Shelby Foote, as quoted in North Carolina Libraries, 1993
“A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library.”
Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, 2002
“When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages – a special odor of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers. Breathing it in, I glance through a few pages before returning each book to its shelf.”
Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, 1985
“In the library I felt better, words you could trust and look at till you understood them, they couldn’t change half way through a sentence like people, so it was easier to spot a lie.”
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible, 1998
“I attempted briefly to consecrate myself in the public library, believing every crack in my soul could be chinked with a book.”
Jean-Paul Sartre, The Words, 1963
“I had found my religion: nothing seemed more important to me than a book. I saw the library as a temple.”
Stephen King, It, 1986
“He sat there studiously bent over his work (Bill saw him), which lay in a slant of crisp white winterlight, his face sober and absorbed, knowing that to be a librarian was to come as close as any human being can to sitting in the peak-seat of eternity’s engine.”
Marilyn Johnson, This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, 2010
“Librarians’ values are as sound as Girl Scouts’: truth, free speech, and universal literacy. And, like Scouts, they possess a quality that I think makes librarians invaluable and indispensable: they want to help. They want to help us. They want to be of service. And they’re not trying to sell us anything.”
Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, 2011
“’Whenever I am troubled,’ said the librarian, ‘I think about the Dewey decimal system.’
‘Then what happens?’ asked the junior, rather overawed.
‘Then I understand that trouble is just something that has been filed in the wrong place. That is what Jung was explaining of course – as the chaos of our unconscious contents strive to find their rightful place in the index of consciousness.’”
By TOM BLUNT,