#LibraryLife in Literature
In Philip Roth’s canonical novella, “Goodbye, Columbus,” the main character—Neil, a slightly schlubby young Jewish guy—works at the Newark Public Library. Neil gets involved with a Radcliffe student while on a break from college during one stultifying New Jersey summer, and Roth draws readers into Neil’s claustrophobic suburban world via that library.
Inspired (sort of) by Neil’s journey, we asked our book experts for recommendations of other books with main characters who work in libraries or archives. They came back with stories with heart-stopping romance, fast-paced thrillers, and otherworldly tales of the fantastical.
These are only adult and YA titles; check out our blog post about children’s books set in libraries! And let us know your favorite fictional librarians in the comments.
In Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr (second book of the Old Kingdom series), Lirael begins to work in the Library to escape the pain of not having the precognitive “sight” of the Clayr. She proves herself to be more than just the sightless daughter of the Clayr as she discovers new charter magic and the hidden secrets of the library. —Nanyamkah Manu Ngozi Mars, Westchester Square
Libriomancer by Jim Hines Isacc Vainio
A librarian and member of a secret society of magicians who pull magic from books, finds himself at the center of a web of danger, aided by his faithful flame spider and a beautiful dryad. —Nicole Rosenbluth, Pelham Bay
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
Dragons vs. faeries, chaos vs. order, and a librarian who just wants to grab the book she’s been sent for so she can go back to the universe-spanning library she calls home. Irene never thought she’d gain an assistant or uncover a plot that threatens all universes on this straightforward mission, but well, here she is. Cogman’s world is littered with fantastic creatures and surprises around every turn in the stacks, and her series has unfolded delightfully into 2 sequels with the promise of more in the future. —Rachael Berkey, Communications
Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
Imagine a world where the libraries control all the information; where the printing press has not been invented; where owning a personal book is expressly forbidden. The start of this thrilling YA series will have readers hooked from the first page. Dystopian, fast-paced, compelling and action packed. —Kate Fais, Bloomingdale
Mystery & Adventure
The Librarian and the Spy by Susan Mann
Public librarian meets CIA spy in this adventure romance! Practically overnight, Quinn goes from helping patrons with readers’ advisory to searching priceless manuscripts for literary clues leading to weapons of mass destruction. And obviously, she meets a hunky spy on the way. —Becky Kluberdanz, Kingsbridge
The Scar by China Miéville
Bellis Coldwine is press-ganged into life on Armada, a pirate city made of stolen ships, floating in the ocean. Due to her strong linguistic skills Bellis works in Armada’s thriving library of stolen books where she both teaches a young man to read and helps the city’s top scientists do research that will change Armada forever all while trying to escape and get home. —Judd Karlman, Pelham Bay
No list of librarians in literature would be complete without the YA novels Evil Librarian and Revenge of the Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen. Mr. Gabriel is a high school librarian who is young, cute, and crushworthy. He’s also hiding his true identity. Will Cyn be able to stop him before it’s too late? —Andrea Lipinski, Kingsbridge
The Archived by Victoria Schwab
Mackenzie Bishop is a Keeper, a librarian for the Archives where the dead rest on the shelves like books. She’s tasked with keeping the often violent Histories from waking up and getting out. —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street
If you’re interested in a nice little cozy mystery series, check out the Library Lovers series by Jenn McKinlay. The first book in the series is called Books Can Be Deceiving (e-book and e-audiobook here), and the series focuses on the director of a suburban public library set in New England, and the director’s best friend, the children’s librarian. The ninth book in the series will be released later this year. —Leslie Bernstein, Mott Haven
Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng
Living on an island off the coast of New England, married and a mother, a librarian finds pleasure in a romance with a high school senior, while also befriending his mom. This literary novel questions human nature and the right to happiness. —Jessica Cline, Mid-Manhattan
The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman
A small town librarian is struck by lightning and embarks on an obsessive love affair with another survivor. Opposites attract and the fire and ice that they feel in their souls informs their relationship. —Jenny Baum, Jefferson Market
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger.
Henry is a time traveling librarian whose passionate love affair with Claire is carried on over decades and is sometimes rudely, sometimes humorously, and sometimes heartbreakingly interrupted by time travel over which he has no control. —Ronni Krasnow, Morningside Heights
Sarah Title, one of the best new writers in contemporary romance, wrote not one, not two, but three librarian romances last year, and they are all absolutely delightful. The series starts with The Undateable (academic librarian heroine, reporter hero), then there’s Falling for Trouble (small-town public library director hero, rockstar heroine), and the series ends with Laws of Attraction (law librarian heroine, lawyer hero). Title is a librarian herself, so there aren’t any librarian stereotypes, just librarian realities: looming budget cuts, covering the desk for a late colleague, and library blog thinkpieces. No need to read these smart rom-coms in order, but you’ll definitely want to read them all. —Stephanie Anderson, Selection
The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy
After leaving her job and cheating husband in London, librarian Hanna Casey is back home in Ireland living with her mother, and driving a library van through the farms and villages of Finfarron. Not sure how her life got so off track, Hanna makes a plan to reclaim her independence. For fans of Maeve Binchey and Jenny Colgan. —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street
A Girl in Winter by Philip Larkin
A concise and wrenching novel that chronicles the road to emotional maturity of a young woman named Katherine Lind, who in 1940 arrives (most likely as a refugee) from an unnamed country in Europe, to work as a library assistant in Oxfordshire, Britain. She had visited the town six years prior while spending a summer holiday in the country home of her pen pal, Robin Fennel. Katherine suffers from feelings of cultural and social isolation, is routinely doled out the least desirable tasks, and is bullied by the supervisor, Mr. Anstey. Larkin, mostly known as a poet, soars in his vivid descriptions of sparse landscapes, both interior and exterior, in this novel. —Sherri Machlin, Mulberry Street
Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.
Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you'd recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!