20 Books About Libraries: Cozy, Creepy, Mysterious Adventures

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Most of us who are avid readers received a burst of childhood inspiration at the library. They were fonts of imagination, safe places to explore our minds and portals to new lands. So, it’s no wonder that we crave books about libraries as a way to keep that inspiration going. And these books set in libraries do just that with by presenting mix of fragile and unlikely friends, obsessives, labyrinths, resident evil, murders, mystery and theft.

We’ve got a whole series of lists that feature books about bookish life. So, if you love this sort of meta topic, then be sure to also look at some books about reading, books about books (and maps and texts) and books set in bookstores.

We’ve even got a list of books about librarians. The distinction between that list and this one, is that our recommended books about librarians have the librarian as the hero and the center of the story. In this list, the library itself is often what sets the mood or kicks off the action. There’s a bit of overlap between the two, and we recommend you peruse both articles so that you can top up your nightstand with all of the books about libraries that you can handle.

Books set in libraries, with book covers.

(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)

17 Fiction Books Set in Libraries

The Library, Bella Osborne

Described by one Goodreads reviewer as “a Harold and Maude in a library”, in this charming novel, the library brings together two unlikely friends.

Tom is a teenager escaping a difficult home life by hanging out at the library and having a think about what he should do with his life. Widowed Maggie lives alone and thinks she’s doing just fine. But is she?

The two meet at their local library, which is slated to close down. As they work to save the library, they become unlikely friends, helping one another deal with grief, loneliness and trust issues.

The library is a protagonist for their friendship and this book has a lot of feels.

The Last Chance Library, Freya Sampson

June Jones’ library is also threatened with closure. But this introverted librarian isn’t going to let that happen without a fight. That fight wakes up June to all that she has in her life, and what she has to gain by joining forces with the other quirky library patrons (and anso re-engaging with an old childhood friend).

This touching story set in a library has a big dose of cozy British charm, and warm-hearted teamwork.

The Woman in the Library, Sulari Gentill

This story-inside-a-story opens up with a letter from Leo Johnson to Australian author, Hannah Tigone. She’s a mystery writer, who should be in Boston researching her book, but who can’t travel because of COVID. So, Boston local Leo reads her drafts, and provides feedback and notes.

Then you enter Hannah’s own mystery book, which starts with a scream. Her book is styled like a classic locked room mystery. In this case, the “room” is the reading room at the Boston Public Library. After the scream rings out and a body is found, four strangers are asked to stay put at their reading tables. As they wait, we learn a bit about each of the four people and they become friendly in the process.

So, you are along for the ride as you (and Leo) try to figure out whodunnit.

The Paris Library, Janet Skeslien Charles

The Paris Library is a crossover between WWII fiction and bibliophilic fiction. Although it’s based upon real people who worked in the library.

In the book, Odile is a librarian at the American Library in Paris. The library comes under attack for housing the (long) list of banned books and also providing subscription services for people that the Nazis disapprove of. Odile and her co-worker resist and while they survive the war, she bears scars.

We meet Odile again in 1983, where she is now living in Montana. She and her neighbor Lily become friends and Odile begins to trust Lily with her story.

The book’s theme cover love, loss, longing and (always) the love of books.

If you like a Paris setting, we’ve got a long list of books set in Paris.

The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco

This creepy library in a Benedictine abbey holds many clues to the mysterious deaths of 7 monks living in the abbey. This book is ostensibly a twisty mystery. But it also a master class in mediaeval studies, touching on philosophy of the day, literary theory and religious politicking.

The plot is as labyrinthine as the actual labyrinth which protects pretty much anyone from gaining entry to the shadowy library.

The Tower, Alessandro Gallenzi

A murdered priest, Middle Eastern politics and a stolen literary masterpiece set the action for this novel. There is an ambitious digitization project afoot in Amman, Jordan and some previously unpublished writing by Giordano Bruno and the Vatican priest sent to study them both disappear.

You get the historical backstory on Bruno’s Renaissance writings along with a modern day Dan Brown-esque thriller.

If a Jordanian setting sounds interesting to you, we have a whole list of books set in Jordan.

The Historian, Elizabeth Kostava

This book blends historical fiction with a literary thriller and the action starts at a library.

When our protagonist finds a cache of her father’s letters, reading them sends her down a nesting doll, rabbit hole, byzantine maze (pick your metaphor) that takes to her various libraries and Eastern European cities. Along the way she uncovers things that she didn’t know about her family and she also realizes that what we think we know about Dracula (or Vlad the Impaler) isn’t the full story.

The Historian is great for fans of well-researched books who don’t mind a twisty, complicated journey.

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

Haig’s book is set in a library of the imagination, which ofers an unflinching look at all of the “what ifs” of our lives. The main character Nora lands in the library after an attempted suicide. The Librarian, offers Nora a series of second (third, fourth etc) chances to choose another version of her life. What if Nora had become a competitive swimmer? What if she had remained in the band? The library’s books give her that opportunity to explore those options…but Nora has to make a choice.

The book is ostensibly about Nora’s choices, but the library itself really propels the action.

If you want to suggest it for book club, we’ve also got a Midnight Library discussion guide for it. And if you’ve already read and liked this one, check out our list of books like The Midnight Library for more book ideas.

The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins

This library is full of a lot of grim shivers and not for the faint of heart. It’s definitively a great crossover read for fans of horror. And also fans of books featuring magical schools.

After Carolyn’s parents died, she was taken in by a man (or is he?) called Father to be tutored in his ancient customs. Each of Father’s students have a particular elemental gift and through Father’s tutelage and books from the titular library, they are taught to hone their skills in a series of cruel, competitive and bloody lessons. When Father goes missing, Carolyn sets out (with a vengeance) to figure out what’s happened.

The Invisible Library (Invisible Library #1), by Genevieve Cogman

If you liked a library setting and the thrill of the chase, then this fantasy series will be right up your alley.

Meet Irene, who is a librarian-slash-international spy sent out by the Invisible Library to retrieve dangerous books that have been lost or stolen. Visualize a librarian hell bent on getting back that overdue book. But also with magical shenanigans, steampunk machinery, a dastardly villain and a (literally) hot assistant, all set in a Victorian(ish) London.

If you say “yes please” to that, then clear your calendar because there are 8 books in the series.

The Shadow of the Wind, (Cemetary of Forgotten Books #1) Carlos Ruiz Zafón

In the same way that Gabriel García Márquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera, is the standard bearer for books about Colombia, Zafón’s Shadow of the Wind holds the torch for books set in Spain. Each are of full of mysterious lives, illuminated by beams of magical realism.

In this first of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, Daniel, an antiquarian bookseller’s son seeks solace in a mysterious book written by Julian Carax. When he tries to find more books by the author, Daniel stumbles into a mystery. No spoilers— there’s a library at the center of the mystery, but it’s purpose is something that you’ll need to discover for yourself.

The book is partly about the slow acceptance of loss and seeking happiness. But it’s also a love letter to reading, which is what caused me to fall in love with it when I first read it in 2005.

The Dewey Decimal System (Dewey Decimal #1), Nathan Larson

Can the New York Public Library’s stately main branch on 42nd street survive a viral epidemic, terror attack and Wall Street meltdown. Yes it can…kinda.

NYC largely emptied out after these disasters, but “Dewey Decimal” (as he’s called), an obsessive compulsive veteran and gun for hire, moves into the library. When he’s not re-organizing the books according to his own peculiar system, he’s being hired by the powerful District Attorney to take out a hit on a local Ukrainian gangster. And as you can imagine, it doesn’t go well.

This book is a “soft-apocalyptic” noir thriller with a hard-boiled but surprisingly sympathetic main character. And if that’s your jam, there are 3 books in the series.

The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami

(Ted Goossen, translator)

Murakami’s library isn’t your cozy home away from home with a kindly librarian, welcoming patrons and shelves stocked with light-hearted romances and snappy contemporary lit. Rather, Murakami taps his deep well of strange to create a nightmarish library that reads more like a place where Kafka, Borge, and Tim Burton would be at home.

When a boy goes to the library to look up some mundane information, he’s taken through a labyrinth and becomes trapped in the reading room. The book is hallucinatory and punctuated with loneliness.

At only 96 pages, this novella will take you on a short and strange trip.

The Library of the Dead (Edinburgh Nights #1), T.L. Huchu

Want more books set in creepy libraries? Great, because we aren’t done yet!

Ropa is a ghost talker. Or rather, the ghosts talk to her, telling her their unfinished business. She makes ends meet getting paid by families who have recently lost loved ones, helping them get closure. When the dead begin to whisper about someone taking children, Ropa feels the need to investigate.

This Scottish fantasy is set in a post-disaster Edinburgh with demon guardians, Zimbabwean magic, Dickensian living conditions, dark doings and (of course) an occult library of ancient magical texts.

And if you like the setting, we’ve got yet more books set in Scotland.

Sorcery of Thorns (Sorcery of Thorns #1), Margaret Rogerson

Elizabeth was raised as a foundling at the Great Library of Summershall. The shelves in her library are stocked with dark magical grimoires. Think of Summershall as less a lending library and more of a caretaker/prison meant to contain the dark magic.

When an act of sabotage releases one of the grimoires, murder and mayhem ensue. Elizabeth’s efforts to contain the damage causes the authorities to blame her for the mess. She seeks the help of her frenemy Nathan to clear her name. But in the act of doing so, they both uncover a lot of greedy machinations and dark conspiracies.

The Library of the Unwritten (Hell’s Library #1), A.J. Hackwith

Yes, there is a library in Hell and it’s not unlike the Library of Summershall in that it’s meant to contain works rather than to lend them. The library houses unfinished works. But these books are restless and they are always trying to escape and return to their authors so that they can be completed.

Claire, the chief librarian, takes her job very seriously and when the Hero of a story escapes, she charges after it. A rollicking adventure ensues which features a ruthless angel, the Devil’s Bible, a demon, Vikings, and a gargoyle (because why not!)

This will be a fun readalike for fans of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.

Ink and Bone (Great Library #1), Rachel Caine

The titular Great Library is kind of like Google with Orwellian tendencies. It’s Google-like in that it uses alchemy to make the great works of history available almost immediately. Orwellian in that the overseers of the Great Library control that flow and personal ownership of books is forbidden.

Our protagonist Jess actually lays his safety on the line by smuggling books. He’s sent by his family to enter into service for The Library, where he can ostensibly spy on it (them).

The book has a good mix of dark and light, with great world building and a diverse cast of characters.

3 Non-Fiction Books About Libraries

The Library Book, Susan Orlean

In 1986, a raging fire gutted the Los Angeles main branch library. Was it arson? Or was it simply bad wiring, a spark and a whole lot of paper for fuel?

Susan Orlean explores these very questions in her great book about the LA library. In it, she shares the library’s history, stories of its librarians and a profile of the evasive man who was accused of setting the fire.

The book is an interesting cross between a whodunnit and a fascinating history of the largest library system in the US. Read this book book club and use our The Library Book discussion guide.

And if you find yourself in LA, do stop in at the downtown branch. It’s a lovingly restored Art Deco wonder with a peaceful garden.

The Map Thief, Michael Blanding

(Subtitle: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps)

If you love libraries as much as I do, this story of a map thief will curl your hair. The cheek of this guy! E. Forbes Smiley was considered a well-respected antiquarian map dealer. He claimed to be purchasing and re-selling the rare maps. But what he was really doing was using his dealer status to gain access to the map rooms of prestigious libraries, then carefully cutting prized maps out of the rare portfolios.

Author Michael Blanding uses his journalistic skills to trace Smiley’s library crime-spree and the book is a fascinating look at a select aspect of rare manuscripts and library collections.

The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, Edward Wilson-Lee

(Subhead: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World’s Greatest Library)

This meticulously researched book focuses on Hernando Colon, who was Christopher Columbus’ illegitimate son. Columbus is well known for voyaging to the new world and he was accompanied by Colon on some of those journeys. Colon became obsessed with building a massive library of every printed work. He kept meticulous notes on the books (and when purchased and from whom), so that when he lost over a thousand of them in a shipwreck, he knew exactly which needed replacing.

This book will give you a high-level view of the 16th century, an overview of the achievements of Christopher Columbus, and a biography of Colon’s vast appetite for books.

Joanina Library Coimbra Portugal, renaissance books and shelves
The Joanina library in Coimbra Portugal. Because this is why we love libraries (and books about libraries)!

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