Monthly Archives: September 2013

Guide to fictional Libraries #12 The Unseen University Library

Following the lead of The Matilda Project The Alibi Library has decided to produce a short series highlighting the work of some of the best fictional libraries:

In a month that saw the great Terry Pratchett attack the Education Minister’s reforms, the Alibi Library has chosen to honour his fantastic book cycle and the Unseen University Library.

Nunc id Vides, Nunc ne Vides (“Now you see it, Now you don’t.”)

The Library:

The Unseen University Library features chained books not unlike the Bodleian library at Oxford, although there it is done to protect the books from the students, whereas at UU it is done to protect the students from the books.

Unseen Academicals

The high concentration of magical lore has warped the Library interior into a locus of L-Space.  This library-space, is the ultimate portrayal of Pratchett’s concept that the written word has powerful magical properties on the Discworld, and that in large quantities all books warp space and time around them. The principle of L-space revolves around a seemingly logical equation;

 \text{Books} = \text{Knowledge} = \text{Power} = \frac{\text{Mass} \times \text{Distance}^2}{\text{Time}^3}.

Large quantities of magical and mundane books create portals into L-space that can be accessed using innate powers of librarianship. Because libraries with enough books to open a portal are often large and sprawling, those venturing into L-space may not necessarily know that they have arrived. The floor and ceiling of L-space follow the floor and ceiling of the library used to access it; the best example of this is that the central dome of Unseen University’s library is “always overhead”.  In every direction and as far as the eye can see bookshelves stretch off, meaning the nature of any walls are unknown.

“good bookshop is just a genteel blackhole that knows how to read.”


Because L-space links every library, (and also possibly Death’s Autobiography Library) it is possible to reach any one of these in all space, time and the multiverse. There are indeed potentially other forms of data storage other than books as it represents every library anywhere. Additionally, one can read any book ever written, any book that will be written at some point and books that were planned for writing that were not, as well as any book that could possibly be written (note that this does not mean knowledge of everything; how would you distinguish the “correct” books from the “incorrect” ones?). As this is a form of interdimensional and time travel, there are strict limits on its use, and the Librarians of Time and Space, that is those who have access to L-space have developed three simple rules to ensure abuse is kept to a minimum:

  1. Silence
  2. Books must be returned by the last date stamped
  3. Do not interfere with the nature of casuality


The Librarian:

Access to libraries of other times or other realities is restricted to the librarian himself.

The Librarian chooses to take the form of an orang-utan having discovered that being one had certain advantages for a librarian – he can climb up to high shelves, for example.

Being an ape, he is known for his violent reaction to most people calling him a “monkey.” He speaks a language whose vocabulary consists primarily of the single word Ook and occasionally Eeek, but most people seem able to understand him.

The Librarian’s name has never been given in any of the books; he is always simply ‘the Librarian though he may once have been Dr. Horace Worblehat. Aside from his library duties his hobbies seem to involve playing keyboards (and his organ has a vox diabolica stop, a thunder pedal, and a 256-ft Earthquake pipe) or spending his leisure hours at the Mended Drum, where he drinks quietly unless provoked, eats prodigious quantities of peanuts, and plays a ruthless game of Cripple Mr Onion with anyone foolish enough to take him on.


The Clients:

Access to the library is open to inhabitants of Ankh  Morpork, although non-magic users may get lost.  Theoretically, according to the strict word of the Lore, women are barred entrance to the library on the grounds that their inferior brains can’t handle it but in practice this has not been the case.


Information courtesy of T. Pratchett and the wonderful contributors to Wikipedia

Coming up;  The Plume Library, Charlie Higson, Carole Boston Weatherford