Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 13, 2010

Your Turn: Name Your Library

Continuing our tribute to libraries and librarians in observance of National Library Week. Scroll down to see the previous posts in this series, or go HERE and HERE.

Libraries and librarians are icons of civilization. In many works of fiction, they serve as emblems of civilization itself. In addition to being real fixtures of society around the world, they have played important roles as settings or even as characters of a sort in fiction, films, plays and so on.

Today, I would like you to participate in our observance of libraries. Call to mind the notable library or libraries (or librarians) you recall, whether from your own life, from history, or from books and movies. Use the “comment” button, or send an e-mail to I’ll include them all in Friday’s wrapup of National Library Week.

Here is a list of some of the great libraries, real and imagined, off the top of my head. I know you can add significantly to this paltry list:

Henry Higgins’ multistory library in the film of “My Fair Lady;” Don Quixote’s own library, which is what inspired him to undertake all those adventures in the first place; the monastery library in “The Name of the Rose;” The Reading Room at the British Museum, where uncounted famous writers and scholars have studied (I tried, but couldn’t get in to see it — have to have a pass, these days: I doubt Karl Marx needed a pass); The Library at Alexandria, symbol both of brilliance and ignorance, which once contained the greatest collection of the world’s knowledge and was destroyed by a string of ignorant conquerors; the excellent and entertaining library at Hogwarts; Leonardo Da Vinci’s collection, which ranked as one of the great libraries of the Renaissance; I think there’s a scene in “Love Story” in which Oliver and Jennifer meet in the library, please correct me if I’m wrong; Yale University has a fascinating library building with a wonderful collection of rare books, one of the world’s largest collections of same, the Beinecke Library, built of white marble that, from the inside, glows amber with the light coming through it (HERE is a link).

Only a couple of librarians come quickly to mind, though I feel like I should be able to rattle off a dozen without a hiccup. Our friend M. Proust, compelled to find gainful employment by despairing parents weary of his lollygagging, fared poorly in some public examinations for a respectable post in Paris and was relegated to a third-level unpaid position at a library, and managed to hold the job for a considerable period without ever really showing up for work. And, of course, dear to all our hearts, Marian the Librarian, heroine of “The Music Man” who certainly Meredith Willson created at least in part for the joy of writing a song that had a rhyme for “carrion!” Certainly you can add to this list.

And my challenge to you is to name a library more stunning that Borges’ amazing creation, the Library of Babel in the short story by that name. Worth looking up if  you haven’t read it. It’s included in his book, Labyrinths.

Now it’s up to you. Comment or e-mail. I hope you’ll have some fun thinking of additions to the list.


  1. Well, there’s the Swarthmore Public Library, where my husband, Alex, spent many a childhood afternoon. Alex didn’t like his name much, because new kids would say, “Alice? I thought that was a girl’s name”. So one day, when the librarian asked his name, Alex said “Roy” (after Roy Rogers). After that, when he walked into the library, the librarian greeted him by name. “Hi Roy” she sparkled. He loved that.


  2. Great libraries, no, but it was a library where Sean Connery’s character found the origin of Zardoz, and the hope of any library of the future in Fahrenheit 451 was in the mind.


    • Glad you mentioned Ray Bradbury — one of the world’s great proponents of libraries! Ray says he learned everything he knows in libraries.


  3. Even to the point that Bradbury was renting time on a library typewriter to get his first stories out, at a time when it was a struggle for him to manage the something like .25 per hour fee. Would he have gotten it down on paper without that library? Without 25 cents?


  4. The Library of Congress, across the lawn from the U.S. Capitol, is a beautiful 19th C. era building. Free tours of the interior architectural details, plus you can see some exceptional historical books, like the Gutenberg Bible. I last went there in 1991.

    Then, in Paris, there’s the BIBLIOTHÈQUE DE L’ARSENAL, a real 18th C. beauty, in a city of many great libraries, large and small.


    • I forgot to mention that a classmate of mine (and yours Brad and Marcy) at Miami U., served a post at the Library of Congress as Poet Laureate of the U.S. Her name: Rita Dove, a talent immediately recognized as exceptional by my English professor White, when Dove was just a little freshman at Miami. No matter how hard I tried, I never could keep up with those women in my English honors classes. Just way too damn good.


  5. The Bowling Green State University Pop Culture Library, a single floor within the main university library, it houses a rare collection and surprisingly vast collection of vintage and first edition comic books amongst a multitude of great American culture. Perhaps not the most noted literary collection, but has provided me with a ton of inspiration and invaluable resources for artwork. It’s an incredible asset for researching the previously popular styles of our country. No matter how many digital reproductions and scans of similar artwork I’ve seen, nothing compares to sitting in the pop-culture library with a two-foot stack of comics from the 40s and 50s and flipping through them and seeing the actual ink on the paper. One of the highlights of the BGSU campus that many people don’t know about.


    • Tho’ I went to Miami U., I didn’t know that about BGSU, a co-member school of the Mid-American Conference. Go MAC!
      Fight On! (Oh, No, that’s USC’s rally cry. Sorry.)


  6. I’d like to say I spent thousands of hours in the music library at Ohio State, but the real number is probably in the dozens. In the huge main library however I used a computer for the first time, to look up something in the card catalog.

    Two library scenes in the movies come to mind, one was the first ghost sighting in the NY Main Public Library in “Ghostbusters”, and in the “Mummy” movie, (the more recent one), where the lady librarian ends up knocking over all the stacks, which SOMEHOW are conveniently set up in a circle, only to fall domino-like around the entire the library.

    There is at least one James Bond movie where he runs through a library, being shot at by evil doers from below, but I would guess that in all the James Bond movies so far there is a chase scene through pretty much every type of building known to man.


    • It would be interesting to consider how many of us may have used a computer for the first time in a library!


  7. […] There’s lots more detail to these entries. You can see them in their entirety under the “comments” section of that day’s blog, HERE. […]


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