1 July 2019 Susannah

The Public Library

St Heliers library, Auckland

One of the most wonderful places I know is the public library! To enter the doors of a library is to feel an instant sense of wellbeing and calm, along with pleasurable anticipation of what treasures you might find there. When I was a child, my Dad used to take us all to the St Heliers Bay Library in Auckland every Friday night. There I’d have the joy of selecting a pile of books for the coming week and, if we were lucky, Dad would buy a large block of Caramello chocolate so that when we got home books and chocolate would make an irresistible combination. As a teenager, I became a school librarian simply because the position allowed me a greater weekly allowance of books. Whenever I have moved to a new city, one of the first things I’ve done is to join the local library. In Sydney, I have joined several, so I have access to all those in the City of Sydney group (9 libraries), the Woollahra group (3 libraries) and also to Waverley Library. I visit them all often.

So it won’t surprise you to hear that I also love books about libraries. I have recently very much enjoyed The Library Book by Susan Orlean, about a terrible fire which was deliberately lit in the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986, destroying more than 400,000 books. The book tells the story of the fire, what it consumed, and the impact it had on librarians and community.

But interspersed with the tale of the fire are chapters on the history of the building, from its early days in a rough town through to its current role in a huge metropolis. There were portraits of eccentric librarians, chapters about book thefts and other arson attempts, weird and wonderful requests faced by staff, library design, and the challenges faced by World Wars and female librarians. The book was absorbing, unusual and fun, and it made me want to immediately rush out to a library, to feel once again the joy that a room full of free books always produces.

Other books about libraries include Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Alan Bennett’s utterly gorgeous The Uncommon Reader in which the Queen accidentally visits a mobile library (if you have not yet read it, do so immediately!!), and Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat who Touched the World by Vicki Myron. Novels which include many library scenes are the truly fabulous Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (Harriet Vane spends many blissful hours in the Duke Humphry’s Library in Oxford) and A.S. Byatt’s superb Possession which begins memorably with the discovery of an old letter tucked into a book in the London Library. Ian Sansom, who works as a professor of library studies, has written four books in a Mobile Library mystery series which will comprise a projected forty-four novels. I have yet to try them but if you are interested they include – The Case of the Missing Books, Mr Dixon Disappears, The Book Stops Here and The Bad Book Affair.

Are you an active library member? What do you love about your local library? Can you recommend another book about a library? Tell me in a comment below.

I only recommend books I have read and know. Some of these links are my affiliate links. If you buy a book by clicking on one of these links I receive a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but does help cover the cost of producing my free newsletter.


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Featured image credit- St Heliers library, Auckland, https://www.aucklandlibraries.govt.nz/pages/library.aspx?library=44&libraryname=St%20Heliers%20Library
Body image credit- The Library Book by Susan Orlean, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39507318-the-library-book
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Comments (9)

  1. Margy

    Hi Susannah. Alec Baldwin interviews Susan Orlean on his podcast, Here’s The Thing. I just happened to listen to it yesterday and can’t wait to read the book. I also have great memories of visiting our local library in Manly. Our children’s library was upstairs in a wonderful old building. I remember my sister and brothers and I racing each other up the grand old wooden staircase, of course making far too much noise. The library eventually moved to a new flat building across the road – no wooden stairs unfortunately – but I still loved visiting for books in my uni holidays.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks Margy. I will seek out the podcast with Susan Orlean.
      I am so glad you also have fabulous childhood memories of visits to the library.

  2. Helen Tomlinson

    It was pre-television days in the early 1950s. My father usually worked at nights – but Friday night was mine. First to the library for an hour of hunting down just the right books while father chose a book for himself and one for my mother. Second, a stop at the lolly shop – this was the only time I was allowed to spend my pennies on lollies. I always chose Smarties and caramel Cobbers; father and mother preferred Scorched Peanut Bars. Finally home – lamplight, open fire, soft radio music and firelight flickering. Best memories ever!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Gorgeous memories. Libraries really are amazing places – so much pleasure, for free!

  3. Yvonne Ingall

    Hi Susannah
    How delightful to read your story of St Heliers Bay public library. I too remember very vividly being taken to join that very library by my mother when I was in primary school and how excited I was. Like you, it was a fortnightly, sometimes weekly visit to get my books for the week. I can remember one of the first books I got was about Borley Rectory, the most haunted house in England, much to my mother’s bemusement or maybe delight! Needless to say when I lived in the UK, I visited Borley, knowing that the rectory had burned down, but it still had quite an atmosphere. I am wondering if we went to the same school, St Heliers Public, followed by Selwyn College. I love your emails and have always loved reading and books with a passion that has never waned, so I thoroughly enjoy your recommendations and news. Thanks Susannah, from a former fellow St Heliers resident.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh how fabulous! I went to Kohi Primary and then had 2 years at Selwyn College, so we did indeed attend the same school. My Dad still lives in Kohi and I visit the library every time, enjoying that beautiful walk around the waterfront to get there. I am so glad you enjoy my newsletters!

  4. Margi Abraham

    I heard Susan Orlean speak at the Sydney Writers Festival in May. She was fascinating and you can listen to her interview with Jennifer Byrne from the SWF website. I found “The Shadow of the Wind” a few years ago in my local library on CD and listened to it in my car. It is a truly wonderful experience and highly recommended.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for the suggestion, Margi. I’ll find her interview on the website. I really enjoyed the book.

  5. Linda Barnes

    Loved The Library by Susan Orleans. Heard her speak at the Writers Festival. I’m presenting it at a small book group I belong to. Since I’ve read it, I have gone back to my own library a lot more & noticed what is going on within it. Despite that I missed your talk – it was booked out!😩

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