Not all shelves and shushing

An Inspiration post on Libraries

Libraries aren't just about books. They are almost the only public space we have left which don't like our wallets more than us.  – Matt Haig

Not much of a preamble this month. I think it's fairly safe to say we all love libraries but just in case you need more about campaigning to save them, here are some links:

Suggestions for sneaking a library or two into your creations

As writers and illustrators, including anything we love in our work serves a two-fold purpose. One, we share the joy with others, and two, we make it 'a thing'. The more children and young people experience libraries, the better.

Start them early, I say. Picture book creators - we need you on the front line. Since babies can now have Library Cards, the first visit to a library seems a pleasing topic to explore. It wouldn't have to be too literal - what about a library for animals, aliens, or people from fairytales ? I wonder which books the Big Bad Wolf would check out?

courtesy of Portsmouth Libraries
The possibilities in books for older readers are as wide-ranging  as the Dewey Decimal system. Historically libraries were as valuable as treasure (still are in my opinion). After all, the Bible is a set of books, a kind of portable library. Which books would your character take if they had to flee into the desert, literally or figuratively? 

In fact, library books were so precious that sometimes they were kept on chains. There's the old, practical reason - but for us of the more fantastical persuasion, what if they had to be chained for other reasons? Could the spells inside be too wicked, are the books themselves dangerous?

   Chained Library Wimborne Minster
© Copyright Chris Downer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Of course, many books have been seen as dangerous in history. Totalitarian regimes tend not to like people thinking for themselves - and so libraries have been suppressed or censored. That could work in speculative fiction, in some future or parallel world where libraries must be hidden and librarians are in league with the resistance.

There's something about all that knowledge collected together, accumulated like batteries. Might a library have powers of its own? I'm thinking of Terry Pratchett's L-space of course, but you might have a different idea.

You love creating thrills and intrigue? What about book ciphers- and the correct edition  is in the library? Or notes passed in books? No chance of hacking there. Perhaps information you just can't get on Google or Wikipedia might just be the clue or the solution your protagonist is looking for.

Now if contemporary realism is your thing, you might be calling 'no fair' at this point. But what about young people flung together in a library? It could be the only place they can use a computer, the only space to do homework, the only refuge from the bullies. There's a chance for romance too - a stack of books might say a great deal about a person - and it's good place for a (quiet) rendezvous of any kind.

I don't think you'd have anyone with a first edition of the Iliad, though.
{from The Boy Next Door}
And since the incongruous is often funny, the library can offer humour too. Back to the beginning then - what about animals, aliens or fairytale folk? You don't have to be an orang-utan to be a Librarian - but it helps.

Have you any more ideas for using libraries in your work - illustrators especially?

If I was a book, I would like to be a library book, so I would be taken home by all different sorts of kids. – Cornelia Funke

by K. M. Lockwood writer  and owner of a writer-friendly  B&B  with one bedroom which is actually a library!


  1. Thank you, Philippa - I love libraries and all the stories held in suspended animation. Your inspirational pointers have got me thinking...

  2. Hoorah - thanks Nancy for commenting.

  3. I like Microfilm machines! They've been important plot point for me.

  4. The picture of the chained books has got me thinking. I wonder if there have, historically, been many libraries that have had books chained/roped/etc to the shelves. It seems like a neat thing to see, but that would be really annoying if you had to get a lot of research done!


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.