Libraries for writers

Or….Why visiting your library (online or in person) is a great thing.

774 words (6 minutes to read  )

I’m a writer of fantasy, and a librarian too. Here are my thoughts on why you should visit your library. If it's been a while since you visited a library here are a few reasons why you might want to step inside one:

Get into a Library

Library staff are some of the most clued in people when it comes to research, networking and just finding you accurate answers.

SO8455 : The interior of The Hive
 The Hive - Worcester 

Impartiality - apart from the fact that they're run by the local council (in the UK anyway) they're against censorship and the information you find in them has been curated and fact checked already. That doesn’t mean you should take everything at face value, but hey, you knew that you're a writer!

Free - not just free to borrow the books, but free to stay in all day. Do yourself a favour though, be nice to the staff who work there and maybe buy them a packet of biscuits or something… As a writer, how much would it cost you to stay in a café all day?


Not the same as bookshops. That's important because they have really different collections. Not just the latest books but specialist books, curios and things not in print, Which Is a Good thing!

The Serendipity factor. Getting out of the house and being some place new is very good for writers - try looking at sections of the library you wouldn't normally look at. If you're a Crime writer, that DIY section might give you some really unique ways to kill someone and hide the evidence….

Libraries need you, but you might need them too. If you're a new author, libraries are often really keen to run author events, the trick is to find the person who looks after events for the libraries service, they might not be out at the desk, so you might need to hunt around for them. It doesn't matter if they don't stock your books, if you run an event they'll buy your books, (probably) and that can only help build your fanbase.

Get Online at a Library

There are some amazing ways libraries can help you as a writer without you even setting foot in the building. You too can fit 22 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary in your pocket!

Wikipedia link

Your library has electronic versions of really expensive reference books that you can access through your smartphone. With your library card you too can access the full OED.

Why should we care? Well the electronic version gives you full usage and quotes, tells you when a word was first recorded (so you can find out if you can use 'gunwale' in your 15thC novel, (you can but  hey said it as 'gonne walles' in 1466, you have to wait till 1626 before it becomes gunwayle:

1466   in Manners & Househ. Expenses Eng. (1841) 205   For tymbre for colers of the maste, and gonne walles, xx. d.)

You can also search by Language of origin (want to make sure your words have a Native North American, Iroquois origin?)

Want your character to speak with colloquial or slang?  (in Cant a ‘Betty’ is a:

".. name formerly given to a short bar of iron used by burglars as a lever to force open doors")

You can also search within a set of dates, or a specific subject, which is  quite astounding if you think how long it would take you to do the same research on the net or using a physical dictionary.  (Locksmith words from 1600 - 1750 anyone?  (Login first) 'wheel-lock -

A form of letter-lock (see letter lock n.  with a series of wheels or disks upon the edges of which the letters were inscribed.  1875.'

I've had conversations with crime and fantasy authors who find this kind of tool invaluable for adding realism to your world and characters. Libraries have lots of other electronic resources, e.g. historical archives of national and regional news. That could be useful if you want to check your facts, but you can use it to see whether your premise is reasonable too or get ideas for your next plot. So pay a trip to your local library as a digital ghost or a physical presence. See what you can find. :)

What have I missed? What are some of the other cool things that libraries can offer you as a writer?