#328 The smell of a library

Come on in.

Pull open the wooden door with those giant oversized handles that are smooth and worn down to a light brown finish. Drag your boots over the dirty green carpeted floor that bubbles up in the corners and splashes tiny dust clouds into shimmery orange sunbeams with every step. Feel the calm and comforting library quiet settle like a blanket over your body and your brain as you shuffle past the counters and make your way inside…

Massive atlases, worn-out hardcovers, and crinkly plastiwrapped kid’s books fill rusty metal bookshelves and cover that overly-lacquered table at the front — dented from that time someone smacked it with their wheelchair in 1988.  Yellowed pages with pencil lines, cracked bindings and broken spines, cover every corner of the place…

Feel our shared histories softly swirl together through old books and stamped checkout cards as you smile and soak up all the little library smells of


Photos from: here and here

79 thoughts on “#328 The smell of a library

  1. I remember stamped check-out cards…

    Wow, that made me sound old, but seriously, they don’t seem to do that anymore. Everything’s on computer.

    I liked seeing the surnames and return dates scrawled on thsoe cards. It was fun to see if you recognised any names.


  2. which is why i’m going to my school’s library to study for world history AP test tomorrow! thanks, neil!

  3. I love the smell of old books, but one smell I love even more is the sent of glossy magazine paper. I stuff my nose in the spine about 10 times during a reading. I’m practically addicted to it.

  4. I love the smell of old books, but the library in my hometown did not smell good. I don’t know if they used some kind of air freshener or what, but it was just not pleasant. Now, the library at my high school was wonderful and the one where I live now is great. No artificial smells there!

  5. I remember my first trip to the library in Oregon City when I was 4, and library smell brings me back every time. All of the magic in those books – I wanted to stay all day. In the end I checked out “Petunia” and “Babar”… Awesome from 45 years ago!

    1. Absolutely, Mary!

      I love the fact that the new library kept a lot of the old wooden shelves and desks. Also, the reference section, with new and old books together.
      Positively Cool and…


  6. AWWWW YEAH…The orange sun spots on the hideous green carpet! I thought that was just my library…Pretty Awesome!

  7. I LOVE libraries. I used to read a book a day and the library was my absolute favorite place. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to one as I have been immersed in responsible adulthood, but this post reminded me that I am way past due for a visit!

  8. YAAA!
    “If ever you’re lonely, bored or blue,
    can’t think of a single thing to do…
    Always remember you’ll find a friend,
    who will stick with you, through thick and thin,
    From the beginning to end…
    Take you to far away places,
    Fulfill an inner-need,
    Just pick up a book
    And Read, Read, Read.”

    Coming together for a bedtime story,
    in a circle for story-time…
    only books can create these precious memories.
    Long Live the BOOK and the Library!
    Awesome Neil

  9. I’m a young, fresh-out-of-school young adult librarian- it’s my dream job and everything I wanted it to be. My library in particular smells a lot like Band-aids (no idea why), and it permeates my hair and clothes. Normally, this would bother me, but since I love my job so much, my workplace is such a great place to be, and the community I work for is so friendly and welcoming, the Band-aid smell is suddenly very appealing.

  10. Yessssss! I currently have an old copy of “Lolita” from my library. The last person to check it out before me did so in 1977! I wasn’t even born yet! So awesome to see those old stamps.

    1. Does it give a name for who checked it out before you? Was it Humbert Humbert? Or Vivian Darkbloom? :)

      Was not a particularly big fan of that book – so can’t say that I’m terribly disappointed that it hasn’t been checked out in 30+ years.. Hope you enjoy it more than I did! :)

      1. No, Freddo, no names. I enjoyed the book for the beautiful writing, not so much for the story. Makes me more sure than ever that procreation is not for me :/

  11. http://www.heatersandcoolers.blogspot.com

    The sign in/out cards are classic!! Love that photo.
    Such a HEATER when the librarian stamps the wrong date and you catch an extra 7 days with the book too!! Remember the stress as a child if you were a day late on returning your book to the library. Thinking back now, what could have possibly done if you didn’t return it. Affect an 11 year olds credit rating……not going to happen. AWESOME.

  12. “SHHHHHH! Please… it’s a library.”

    You know you’re getting old when you say that to some kid for the first time. I’m 35 and it happened to me the other week. I was more surprised than the poor wide-eyed child looking at me like a deer in headlights.

    For more heart-pounding adventures of this nature, check out http://www.1000babysteps.com
    (Largely inspired by His Awesomeness; a.k.a. Neil)

  13. When I taught middle school, the book choices I had were severely limited, and I ended up having to use some historical fiction books by Ann Rinaldi, which I was not crazy about. But there was a passage in one of them (The Fifth of March) where the main character describes her first encounter in a bookstore, and how “you would have to be a person who loves books to understand” – it’s a beautiful passage, similar in tone to today’s post, and I enthused about it so convincingly that my students were certain that Rinaldi was one of my favorite authors.

    I actually just found the passage on Google Books: “You would have to be a person who loves books to understand, who loves the way they look and smell. And the quiet that surrounds them. And the way it seeps into your soul” (p. 38).

  14. This one is awesome for sure!
    In the same vein, I LOVE the smell of old churches. The beeswax candles, the incense, the flowers, the musk, all mingling together after years and years of worship.

  15. I really miss card cataloges. Growing up, I always felt like I was on a mission when I was looking for the right book. Our library moved to self-check outs with lame receipts and it’s just not the same!

  16. Holy moley what sorts of libraries do you guys have? check out our one in Wellington, New Zealand – architectural on the outside, styley on the inside but still with the lovely library quiet… ah! :)

  17. Oh, I love this one. I’ve been going to my tiny local library for as long as I can remember, and even longer, according to my parents. I was read to there as a baby, eventually read to myself, and as soon as I could print my first name I got my library card. My abiding love of books undoubtably stemmed from that little library, and I make my every-other-weekly pilgrimage there to get new books and bask in the awesome.

  18. those were the good old days… nowdays everything from the check out to the catalog is electronic… haven’t seen a card file or a stamped book in years.

  19. My city library just moved to a new building, but that did little to take away all of that wonderful scent. Even among the shiny new shelves, unworn chairs, and clean carpets, all you have to do is browse the books that were brought over to bring back all the memories.

  20. Neil,
    What’s the photo from? It reminds me of Douglas Library – dirty technicolour chairs, ancient creaking shelves, and brilliant sunlight coming through the rosette windows.

    Smelled pretty good too.

  21. I love the smell of books :DDD But im just gonna say: wow, your library sounds old and neglected. Ours is lovely and nice and newwww :)))

  22. I remember my first time in Paris. I was by myself, a young girl really – 24. I was having this amazing time, because hey, it is Paris but I was just tired, overwhelmed by the history of the place, the oldness and the cigarettes and the wine and everything. Then, by chance, I found myself at the American Library, near the Eiffel Tour. If you are a North American, in need of a little bit of home in the most beautiful city on Earth, this is the place to go. You walk in and there is no more smell of little cups of espresso or croissant or the street, just a library like in your own little town in NA. Like a kind of heaven:) I spent three hours there, reading old National Geographics.

  23. Aaaaah. You have to love libraries. Great post and don’t forget the awesomeness of our favorite and cool characters who work behind the check-out desk.

  24. I just have to describe my childhood library as I think it was a wonderland for me as a child. The children’s section, at the time a fairly new addition, had a bronze fountain depicting Christopher Robin and Pooh right smack in the middle. I loved that as a kid! How peaceful to sit there and read to the sound of tinkling water. The adult section, the much older section, had two-story tall stained glass panels extolling the virtues of reading and learning. They mesmerized me as a young girl and I couldn’t wait ’til I was old enough to get an adult card. It seemd so historic, so formal, so grown-up.

  25. Hi, friends! I work in the music library at my school, and I wrote a poem about it last year. I sent it to Neil and he liked it and told me I should (could) post it in the comments. So… :)

    “We, the books of the Music Library,
    love you.

    We love the way you cradle us in your arms
    as you scan the shelves to find our slotted homes.

    We shiver as you run your fingers along our cracked and ancient spines.

    When you dance your fingers between us,
    peering at our covers and tugging us apart,
    it tickles. Can you hear us laugh?

    Sometimes, when an unruly brother
    squeezes out from our midst,
    your firm hands tuck him back in snugly.

    We want to be near you.

    Once, we shook ourselves loose when you were one aisle away.
    Our messy tumble earned us your groan of frustration,
    and our paperthin hearts broke to know that you were unhappy.
    But your careful scrutiny as you placed us
    (one by one by one by one)
    back on the shelves
    (like re-gluing leaves onto branches)
    was worth the bruised corners and your temporary displeasure.

    Once, as you walked among our silent eaves,
    you paused as a title caught your interest.
    You may have seen us blush green with envy
    as you tugged the lucky one away.

    You cannot know (how could you know?),
    but when you are not around, we slump.
    Words spill messily from our pages
    and our spines warp and melt until we are
    nonsense and non-order. It is how we relax.

    But when we hear your footsteps
    (quiet as you are, our silence can still detect
    and identify your very heartbeat,
    your cells as they multiply –
    like a lover knows his woman’s quiet breathing,
    we know when you approach),
    we become as you know us:
    at attention, words in neat rows and columns,
    spines straight as forests of skyward-rocketing pines.

    Each of us strains to be a little taller than our neighbors,
    in the hope that we, too, may catch your eye.

    Legend has it that once,
    in a used bookstore in London,
    you saw a cousin of ours and you stopped breathing.
    He’s not much to look at: a rather thin, diminutive little guy,
    pages splashed with a poet’s tortured soul.
    (aren’t we all, though?)

    The way he tells it, your fingers trembled
    as you peeled him from the shelf,
    as you thumbed your way gently through his inky insides;
    as if a single shaky breath could crumble him to dust.

    (You are surprised that we talk?
    Oh, yes, we talk. We talk more quietly than
    a librarian’s “shhh!”,
    than a fluorescent light’s rattle,
    than even the snow settling quietly on itself,
    but we talk all the same.)

    The legend says that you had tears in your eyes,
    and that your hair tickled as it brushed his skin.

    If that is true (and those lucky few
    who now slump in your room at home
    swear that it is),
    we say, if that story is true,
    then you nearly know how reverently
    a single one of us
    (the least tree,
    one sliver of a page of our
    universe of paper)
    worships the world that is you,
    and craves your sweet glance.”

    1. Somthing glitched, I’m not getting, “smell of the library posts”, glad I revisited…
      Mandy, this eloquence must be brought out in poster and book mark… it is a work of art!
      Try Annick Press.
      Thanks for sharing!

  26. My dad worked at a library, so my first memory of a library was wayyyy before I could read! Sitting in tiny rocking chairs, looking through picture books for ages.

    When I learnt how to read, it was the book mobile that came to my school every week, with little card board library cards:) and trying to trick the librarian into believing you really were a preteen, so you could just maybe, possibly, take out baby sitter club books!! nothing smells as good as used books to me

  27. I work in a library, I found this old library card from the 1920s-30s in the original book! So awesome to see the names scrawled in this card from 1933! :D

  28. I have always wanted books…
    I even have more books than clothes…
    And one of my favorite hangouts is a library…
    (And I am sounding like a nerd already…(^^,)

  29. Yes, the smell of books is the best! Whenever I buy a new book, I always feel that I have something special that’ s why I keep all of them inside my cabinet. Actually, one of my goals in life is to have a library of my own so that after work I will not rest in my bedroom but in my own library and practically smelling my books!haha!

  30. I work at a library so I am able to experience this smell everyday! It truly is a welcoming and calming smell.

  31. i luuuuuuuv this, my favorite used bookstore chamblins bookmine, smells awesome. every time i go, the second i walk in, i take a deep breath lol

  32. Whenever i enter into a library….the smell of old books charms me so much…..this is really awesom!

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