From the first library – thought to be founded sometime in the 7th century BCE – all the way to today, libraries have captured our hearts, minds and imaginations. To celebrate these places of learning, exploration and relaxation, we have created a list of our top picks to help bookworms and library lovers of all ages get in the Library Lovers’ Day spirit!
History of libraries
Let's get started by taking a look at the history of libraries, from what the first libraries looked like to how their role in society changed over time. For an in-depth view of this, The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen is the way to go. Bursting with detail, this book will tell you all you need to know regarding the people, collections and places that shaped the very definition of what constitutes a ‘library’.
If you prefer your history with a bit more introspection and eccentricity, Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night will have you hooked from the start. Full of personal and intimate stories from his own life, Manguel’s unique retelling of the journey of libraries and those that shaped them is a must read for any library lover curious about the history of their home away from home.
As is discussed in these books, many significant libraries have been lost throughout history, whether intentionally or simply over the course of time. Learn about some of these libraries and their collections in Lost Libraries: The Destruction of Great Book Collections Since Antiquity edited by James Raven. This collection of essays goes on to discuss the intellectual, political and cultural consequences brought about by the loss of libraries and, ultimately, why libraries are so valuable to society today.
What about the history of physical library spaces? Throughout time, libraries have been a place for architectural experimentation and wonder, with many libraries being considered some of the most beautiful places in the world.
Learn about how library buildings evolved over time in Konstantinos Staikos’s The Architecture of Western Libraries: From the Minoan Era to Michelangelo, including common traits that stood the test of time and how libraries have been influenced by political and religious context. Split into 5 sections by time period, such as the Roman empire or the Renaissance, this book is comprehensive, intelligent and beautiful in equal measure.
If you’re after a more in-depth study, take a tour through 23 historic libraries in The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World with photographs by Guillaume de Laubier and text by Jacques Bosser. Featuring the likes of the Institut de France in Paris to the Royal Monastery in El Escorial, Spain this book will have you adding several more locations to your travel bucket list!
For those of you who prefer books of the fiction variety, don’t worry we have plenty of suggestions for you as well! First of all, if you’re keen for some mystery, check out the Dr Pimms, International Sleuth series by L. J. M. Owen and follow the story of Dr Elizabeth Pimms, archaeologist turned librarian, as she solves ancient crimes around the world.
On the other hand, while libraries can be an excellent starting point for any investigation, they also serve as a calm place to escape from difficult times. This is explored in The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay, a story of grief and love set shortly after World War II. This book follows the story of 3 characters as they seek peace and fulfilment during times of turmoil, and the friendship that they form along the way.
If sci-fi thrillers are more your speed, international bestseller Matthew Reilley’s debut novel Contest will have you on the edge of your seat from the start. Set in the New York Public Library, this book tells the high-stakes story of a father and daughter trapped in an ultimate competition for survival. If you’ve ever wondered ‘what if The Hunger Games was set in a library and Katniss had to fight intergalactic monsters?’ then this book is the one for you.
Finally, we can’t let the young, or young at heart, library lovers be without any recommendations to help them celebrate! If you’re interested in intricate illustrations and a meaningful story about the impact of books, check out The Greatest Treasure of Charlemagne the King by Nadia Wheatley. This book tells the tale of a king whose discovery of books saves not just himself, but his whole kingdom from dark times.
For those who are curious about library history, but found our previous recommendations a bit overwhelming, explore the journey of libraries over time in Midnight at the Library by Ursula Dubosarsky and published by the National Library. Follow the story of books from when they were first created to how they have been loved, lost, found and preserved over time, accompanied by beautiful illustrations from award-winning artist Ron Brooks.
Another excellent choice for young bookworms is The Children who Loved Books by Peter Carnavas, which tells the story of 2 kids who, upon having all of their books taken away, discover the importance of books and how they bring people together.
Keen for more book recommendations?
For more reading inspiration, check out our regularly updated display in the main reading room, or visit your local library. Or if you loved these book recommendations and are keen for more, explore our staff picks for summer reading.