Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Library Magic | A Guest Post by Adam Shaughnessy

Libraries are magic.

Does that surprise you?

It shouldn’t. Magic is the child of possibility—the possibility of something more, something fantastic beyond our everyday experience. Libraries are houses where infinite possibility waits just behind every page turn and every screen swipe. Each book is a grimoire with the power to change and transform the reader.

Think about it.

Haven’t you ever wondered about all the conventions of order that have been imposed on libraries over the many years of their storied history? Alphabetization. Card Catalogs. Dewey Decimal Systems. Whispering. Those institutions were not arbitrary inventions. They were created to try to reign in the wild magic that sleeps beneath the surface of every library.

It is not enough, though; the magic still abides. It will wake at the spine-crackling sound of a newly opened book, or the sound of footsteps, muffled by well-worn carpet, as children scurry to their favorite spot for story time.

The magic of libraries is an old magic, too, older than many people realize. Though modern in appearance and function, libraries carry on an ages-old tradition. They are the descendants of the storehouses built by the Shi and the Wu, the historians and the diviners of China’s Shang Dynasty. Those storehouses collected the statutes and genealogies of a nation. They marked the first efforts to chronicle a civilization’s culture and encourage its spread.

Libraries are the heirs of the royal archives of the lost Hittite Empire, whose keepers collected prophesies and the first contracts of peace. Libraries and archives helped birth history itself as humankind took its first, faltering steps away from prehistory. Down through the long centuries libraries have upheld their charge as the collectors of and caretakers for the knowledge of civilizations.

And, of course, if libraries are magic, then librarians are workers of magic.

They are Gandalf; if there is lost knowledge that is hidden (of rings or other, lesser things), secreted away in a dark corner or lost amid a glut of readily available data, they will find it.

They are the goddess Seshat, in the old ways, the keepers of the House of Books and the House of Architects. They lay the foundations for civilizations and ensure that they are built true—and through their records they hold those civilizations accountable to truth down through the ages.

They are Scheherazade, and they will enchant you with tale upon tale until you cannot help but love them.

Draw a line connecting all the libraries of the world and you will have a map of true ley lines. Be warned: if you choose to walk those old straight tracks you should know that your journey will take you someplace new, someplace undiscovered. Though you may go there and back again, you will not return the same person.

Libraries will change you. The changes may be subtle or too small to notice at first. You may not see them directly, but you will catch glimpses of them in enlightened attitudes and broadened horizons. You will see reflections of the changes in the increased confidence that comes from a better understanding of your community, your country, and your world—and, through those things, a better understanding of yourself.

Libraries are magic.

Adam Shaughnessy is the author of The Unbelievable FIB series and loves libraries. Algonquin Young Readers is celebrating the publication of the second FIB book, Over the Underworld, and National Library Card Sign Up month throughout the month of September using the #MagicOfLibraries.


  1. I can see you so clearly as a 5th grader in The Fessenden School Library! What joy it gives me to know that you have become an author and an ambassador. It is, indeed, magic.