If you love books, you know there’s nothing like that feeling you get when you first step into a library, completely surrounded by so much knowledge and history and human stories. Libraries are my absolute favorite places in the world (which is why I write this blog on location from them whenever I get the chance), and since I know that so many of you agree, I’m bringing you a little treat.
I needed to give my brain a break from coding and developing the Collector Directory, so today I decided to put together a Top Ten list of the most awe-inspiring libraries from the fictional universe (literature and film), providing some of the best quotes and visuals I could find for each one. These libraries house the very definition of rare books – volumes that exist only in imagined lands, books both magical and dangerous, shelves that hold every book ever written (and every book that never was), including every story that was completed only in the author’s dreams, and some too fantastical even to dream.
With those few words of introduction, I invite you in to explore and experience . . . just be sure to stay out of the Restricted Section ;)
P.S. If real life is more your thing, I’ve also put together something I think you’ll really love: virtual-tour walkthroughs of some of the most beautiful libraries in *this* world.
The Citadel (from Game of Thrones)
“A raven came from the Citadel. A white raven. Winter is here.”
“The Citadel, also known as the Hightower, is both the headquarters of the Order of Maesters – scholars who advise lords of the Seven Kingdoms on matters scientific, medical, and historical – and the seat of House Hightower, vassals of House Tyrell and rulers of the city of Oldtown.
The Citadel was founded many centuries ago to promote and increase learning and knowledge in Westeros. It is administered by the Conclave, the ruling council of archmaesters. The Citadel is also where young men from the entire continent are trained to become Maesters.”
There’s a really great examination of the library from Core77, an industrial design blog, focusing especially on the massive hanging system of lenses designed to pull natural light from the windows and illuminate any section of the library desired (since torches and open flames are inadvisable in this building). Most images below are pulled from their article: “The Magnificent Architecture and Design of the Citadel Library”
If you look a little closer, you can see the tiny human illuminated in that main shaft of light (standing by the second vertical bookshelf from the left):
Belle’s Library (from Beauty and the Beast)
“You like it? Then it’s yours!”
“The library of Beast’s Castle is an extremely large room with a high roof and fretworked walls and roof. Cream colored double doors are open into the library. There’s a big globe, a writing desk, some paintings, a magnificent fireplace, carpets and a few chairs on the colorful ceramic floor. The library possesses thousands of cupboards and endless books with some staircases that lead people to the higher shelves and books, also there are a few ladders in it. There are two long windows with long green curtains. The two shelves closest to the main entrance were at least two stories high, while the shelf at the back was three stories in height. There were some evil statues and designs in the library but surely when the spell broke, they all turned to pure designs.”
The Library of Morpheus (from Sandman)
“Oh, it’s a very unusual library, Matthew. Somewhere in here is every story that has ever been dreamed.”
“The Dreaming is the domain of Morpheus, also known as Dream of the Endless. It is under his complete control. Dream can add and remove places in the Dreaming as he pleases. In the heart of the dreaming is Dream’s castle, the front gate of which is guarded by a Gryphon, a Wyvern, and a Hippogriff. Within the castle is a Library, overseen by Lucien, in which are collected all of the books and stories that have ever been dreamed, volumes that do not exist in the waking world. Here, you can read anything, regardless of whether it’s written in a language you can understand.”
The Library Planet (from Doctor Who)
“Donna, stay out of the shadows…”
“The Library was a planet-sized library that was built during the 50th century. It contained every book ever written. Within its core was the Data Core, the largest hard drive ever designed to date, which served as an index computer, as well as containing backup copies of every book ever written. The planet had one moon, which was actually an antiviral subroutine having the physical appearance of a moon. Due to its caretaking role, it was known as a Doctor Moon.
The Library and its computer was built by Felman Lux to embody his daughter Charlotte Lux’ living mind before her failing body died. She could enjoy eternal life in the virtual reality, with the Doctor Moon nurturing her spiritual and mental well-being. Visitors to the Library used courtesy nodes, sculpted computer terminals containing real faces made from donated flesh; the nodes would chose a face they thought a patron would like. The security drones were levitating wooden spheres. All spheres had a camera lens and could communicate by displaying messages across a scrolling LED display in red letters.”
Unfortunately, on this planet they also discover the Vashta Nerada, carnivorous creatures living in the shadows who destroy everything in their path. So, there’s that.
Hogwarts Library (from Harry Potter)
“Because that’s what Hermione does. When in doubt, go to the library.”
“The Hogwarts Library is located off of a corridor on the first-floor of Hogwarts Castle and contains tens of thousands of books on thousands of shelves. Overseen by Madam Irma Pince, the library is where students can go to peruse or borrow books to supplement their studies (or for personal enjoyment).
In the 1940s Tom Riddle looked in the Restricted Section of the library in hopes of finding a book regarding Horcruxes. He found Secrets of the Darkest Art, a book that gives explicit instruction on how to create a Horcrux. Sometime after this, Albus Dumbledore (during his time as Headmaster) removed all the books containing information on Horcruxes from the library.
In 1991 in his first year, Harry Potter used his newly-acquired Invisibility cloak to sneak into the Restricted Section during the Christmas holidays. He went at night in order to look for information on Nicolas Flamel. Hermione Granger entered the Restricted Section in 1992 in her second year using an autograph from Gilderoy Lockhart, who was the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor that year.”
The Library of Babel (short story by Jorge Luis Borges)
“You who read me, are You sure of understanding my language?”
“Borges imagined the Library of Babel comprising a huge number of connected hexagonal rooms lined by bookshelves. Each shelf contains thirty-five books of uniform format; each book is of four hundred and ten pages; each page, of forty lines, each line, of some eighty letters which are black in color.
Each book contains a different combination of letters, and in total they contain all possible combinations of letters, with the result that the Library as a whole contains Everything: the minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels’ autobiographies, the faithful catalogues of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue, the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary on that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books.”
— summary from Open Culture
What sets this fictional library apart from the rest is its relationship to modern-day computing, and therefore the number of real-world installations that have sprung up to illustrate the concept.
Johnathan Basile, a Brooklyn author, taught himself programming so he could create an interactive website, LibraryOfBabel.info to show us what it’s like to peruse the contents of these infinite books, which is enough to convince us of the truth behind the book that “Despite – indeed, because of – this glut of information, all books are totally useless to the reader, leaving the librarians in a state of suicidal despair.” You can read an interview with Basile here.
Artist Refik Anadol has used AI and machine learning to turn 1.7 million digital documents from a Turkish museum into a massive nod to Jorge Luis Borges. You can read the story here and check out a video from the art installation produced below.
Jedi Temple Library (from Star Wars)
“If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.”
“The Jedi Temple Library was a vast collection of Jedi wisdom situated near the main floor of the Jedi Archives of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. The library contained innumerable amounts of reading material collected from all corners of the galaxy. Containing holobooks, datasticks, and a variety of other modern and ancient storage devices, the library sported information that was restricted to only members of the Jedi High Council. Located in the First Knowledge quarter, the majority of the library was accessible to all members of the Jedi Order. While the library was directly operated by the Librarian’s Assembly, the Council of First Knowledge oversaw all operations of the databanks housed within.
Consisting of eight halls, the Temple Library was circular with four primary halls, and four additional wings in between. Converging like the spokes of a wheel at a central rotunda, the halls were separated by study areas which consisted of several desks and computers. The outer hall of the library encircled the chamber, lined with a collection of datasticks and various other storage devices.”
Labyrinthine Monastery Library (from The Name of the Rose)
“Books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.”
“This classic Italian mystery revolves around the abbey library, situated in a fortified tower – the aedificium. This structure has three floors—the ground floor contains the kitchen and refectory, the first floor a scriptorium, and the top floor is occupied by the library. The two lower floors are open to all, while only the librarian may enter the last. A catalogue of books is kept in the scriptorium, where manuscripts are read and copied. A monk who wishes to read a book would send a request to the librarian, who, if he thought the request justified, would bring it to the scriptorium. Finally, the library is in the form of a labyrinth, whose secret only the librarian and the assistant librarian know.
The aedificium has four towers at the four cardinal points, and the top floor of each has seven rooms on the outside, surrounding a central room. There are another eight rooms on the outer walls, and sixteen rooms in the centre of the maze. Thus, the library has a total of fifty-six rooms. Each room has a scroll containing a verse from the Book of Revelation. The first letter of the verse is the letter corresponding to that room. The letters of adjacent rooms, read together, give the name of a region (e.g. Hibernia in the West tower), and those rooms contain books from that region.”
Fun fact: The librarian’s name is Jorge of Burgos, a wink and a nod to Jorge Luis Borges, the author of The Library of Babel mentioned above.
The Spirit Library (from Avatar, The Last Airbender)
“I am Wan Shi Tong, he who knows ten thousand things, and you are obviously humans; which, by the way, are no longer permitted in my study.”
“Wan Shi Tong’s Library is an enormous library located in the Spirit World. It can be found in the central Si Wong Desert and is a popular destination for many adventurers. The library was considered to be very difficult to locate, as it is almost completely buried under desert sand.
Wan Shi Tong is an ancient, wise, and powerful spirit who collects information for his Spirit Library, and thus is the most knowledgeable being among humans and spirits. Together with his band of knowledge-seeking foxes, he collected knowledge from all over the world, which he displayed in his library in hopes that humanity would use it to better itself. He never misses an opportunity to learn new facts or boast about his vast intelligence, though he has developed an indifference for studying human technology since leaving the physical world. Although his regular shape is that of a huge black-and-white barn owl, when angered he can assume much more frightening forms.”
The Tenth Library Is Up To You
There are many hundreds of fictional libraries accessible in literature and film. I’ve showcased nine of the best, and now I want to open up the tenth one to all of you. Would you please leave a comment to tell me (and the rest of us) which other ones we should take a look at? I want this page to be a resource for anyone online who’s looking to lose themselves in the wonder and joy of someone else’s imagination…