Across fantasy and science fiction (with the occasional stop in horror), there are any number of amazing fictional libraries we’d love to visit—especially to meet up with the guardians of the stacks! After all, what’s a fantasy story without an awe-inspiring tower full of potentially curséd books? Or a sci-fi adventure without the cumulative knowledge of civilization stored somewhere to guide our heroes on their quest?
Here is an overdue celebration of the keepers of knowledge. From experts in Egyptology to far-future book-lovers fighting tyrannical governments to sword-wielding barbarians, we have a librarian for every occasion!
Wan Shi Tong — Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra
An ancient, wise, and powerful spirit, Wan Shi Tong is not one to be trifled with. He spent a lifetime gathering books in hopes that humans would use his library to better themselves. But when he learned that the Avatar planned to use his knowledge for violence instead, he closed the doors of his library to humans forever. Until, that is, Jinora is allowed to explore the library in exchange for her knowledge of how radios work.
Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle) — Batman
Head of Gotham Public Library by day, crime fighter by night—no one can pull this (or that shimmery purple suit) off quite like Barbara Gordon can. (We wouldn’t mind zipping through Gotham on her snazzy purple bike, either.)
Even after her role as Batgirl ended in the comics, Barbara took her librarian skills to a a new digital level as an information expert and super-hacker known only as Oracle.
Death — Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
It’s pronounced deeth, like teeth, though certain characters in Kristin Cashore’s novel “liked to mispronounce it by accident on occasion.” Possibly the crankiest librarian on any list—and with good reason—Death is the royal librarian in the kingdom of Monsea, and endured the reign of a hideously abusive tyrant king. Death’s Grace, his unique power, is the ability to “read inhumanly fast and remember every word forever,” which comes in incredibly handy when young Bitterblue, trying to correct some of the many wrongs perpetrated by her father, needs him to help restore books the previous king destroyed. Like so many of Cashore’s characters, Death has been through a lot and reacted in his own way, and even when he’s testy, it’s impossible not to feel for him (and his hissing cat).
Rupert Giles — Buffy: The Vampire Slayer
Librarian of Sunnydale High School, Watcher of slayers, and the wizard-formerly-known-as-Ripper—is there anything this man can’t do? Giles won us over guiding Buffy toward her destiny, reminding us all that the best defense against evil is a little research. Giles was typically stuffy and intellectual, but he could cut loose from time to time—he has a passion for open mic nights, Halloween costumes, and a certain magical chocolate bar. And who could forget the practically poetic speech he gave defending the fact that knowledge should be, well… smelly.
The Librarian — The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett
Transformed into an orangutan by a wayward beam of magic, the Librarian is a member of the small, elite group who have the knowledge and ability to travel through L-space. His true identity is unknown and he speaks only through a series of “ooks” and “eeks,” but he’s still a pretty low-key guy when he’s not protecting the world’s knowledge. Just don’t call him a monkey. Trust us on that one.
CAL — Doctor Who (“Silence in the Library” & “Forest of the Dead”)
The story of Charlotte Abigail Lux (CAL) is tragic enough to break both your hearts. When she was dying, her father preserved her consciousness within a program that simulated a dream world, giving her access to all the knowledge in the library. CAL used this knowledge to help save the Doctor, Donna, and others from the fearsome Vashta Nerada.
A-Through-L — Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente
This is a very particular entry, because A-Through-L isn’t so much a librarian as … a library. To be more specific, a wyverary: half wyvern, half library. Ell, as he’s called, knows everything about subjects that begin with the letters A through L, but is less helpful when it comes to later portions of the alphabet (his siblings know about those). A faithful and wonderful companion to our heroine, September, Ell is one of the great creations of children’s literature and belongs on every list, especially ones to do with libraries.
The Grey Lady — Ghostbusters
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the scariest librarian of all, the ghost of the Grey Lady from the opening segment of Ghostbusters. The Grey Lady’s “full torso apparition” roams the lower stacks of the New York Public Library, emptying card catalogs, arranging books in unhelpful piles, and generally terrifying the current library staff. She may look like a harmless elderly lady, but speak too loudly in her library and she’ll turn into one fearsome ghoul—just ask our intrepid ghost-busting heroes, who fled their first real ghost-busting gig in terror.
The Librarian/The Town’s Librarian — Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World by Haruki Murakami
Technically there are two librarians in Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World. The book shuffles two realities together in alternating chapters—the cyberpunky “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” and the surrealist “The End of the World.” In the first, the Librarian is a girl who’s always hungry, and who acts as a research guide to the book’s narrator, a Typical Murakami Protagonist, Who Notices All the Weirdness and Just Kind of Accepts It. In this book, said protagonist wants to learn about unicorns. In the second book, the Town’s Librarian tends to the skulls of beasts that have dreams locked inside of them. She assists the OTHER Typical Murakami Protagonist, Who Doesn’t Understand the Kafkaesque Nightmare in Which He is Trapped. His job, which he Does Not Understand, is to read the dreams in the beast’s skulls.
Eventually, things come to a head. Or a skull, whatever.
Mike Hanlon — IT by Stephen King
Mike is the last member of the Losers Club. As one of the only Black people in the extremely cursed town of Derry, he deals with horrific racism on top of all the clown murder. Since he’s also a giant nerd, he’s pretty resigned to his outcast status until he finds the Losers Club. He becomes the group’s resident history expert, using his research into Derry’s to help in the fight against Pennywise. He’s the only member of the Club to stay in Derry, becoming the town’s librarian and continuing his research until it’s time to call his friends home for the final fight.
Isaac Vainio — Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines
Brilliant but undisciplined, Isaac Vainio has the ability to reach into books and create objects from their pages. It’s a talent that almost any librarian would envy, except that the hazards of his job include a neurotic fire-spider named Smudge, a dryad with a penchant for sword fights, a missing Gutenberg, and secrets that could loose a devastating magical war upon an unsuspecting world.
Zelda Schiff — The Magicians
There are plenty of librarians on The Magicians, but Zelda is the Head Librarian, and the one we get to know the best over the show’s five seasons. She’s loyal to the library until she has good reason not to be, and her conflicted feelings about the library’s mission, hedge witches, her relationship with her daughter all combine to make Zelda a fascinating secondary character—and one who’s also a masterful magician in her own right. (Let us also take a quick moment to appreciate Zelda’s tendency to walk around with her hands held just so.)
Honorary mention to Penny, of course, who also becomes a librarian—a job that requires an eternity of service. Service that continues even after death.
Wong — Marvel Cinematic Universe
Wong is briefly the librarian of Kamar-Taj, after he replaces an earlier librarian—who unfortunately doesn’t get any character development as we meet him while he’s being murdered by Kaecilius. During Wong’s tenure, however, he makes for an ideal pop culture librarian: gruff and no-nonsense, snapping at Strange to stay away from the forbidden books, but just lost in Beyonce enough to not notice when Strange… inevitably steals the forbidden books.
While we’re very pleased that Wong has taking a more active role in his subsequent MCU appearances, we’d still like to see him have an adventure that actually involves librarian-ing. Is that so much to ask, Kevin Feige?
Evelyn Carnahan — The Mummy
How could you not love a brilliant Egyptologist who will stop at nothing to find the lost book of Amun-Ra, even when it brings her face-to-face with flesh-eating scarabs and an army of the undead? She may be a bit clumsy early on, but Evie holds her own with a gun and dagger, dishes out the sass as well as the facts, and delivers adorably drunken proclamations like this:
“I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O’Connell, but I am proud of what I am… I am a librarian.”
And then there’s all that chaotic energy she generates with Brendan Fraser’s Rick O’Connell.
Lirael — Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix
Lirael is the patron saint of every reader who took a long time to figure out what they want—and those of us who are still working on that. A daughter of the Clayr, who live in a glacier and See glimpses of the future, Lirael grows up miserable. She’s never Seen anything, and every birthday is just a reminder that she’s long past the age at which most Clayr get the Sight. But when she begins working in the Clayr’s incredible library, she finds new purpose: the library is huge and contains so much more than books, and Lirael, a true introvert, spends much of her time exploring, stumbling upon things both dangerous and delightful. The magic she learns in the library will bring her her truest friend and introduce her to her true calling—but she never really stops being a librarian, even after she saves the world and discovers a family she never expected.
Rex Libris — The Rex Libris Comics by James Turner
Dealing with loitering zombies and chasing down alien overlords who refuse to pay their overdue book fees is all in a day’s work for Rex Libris, Head Librarian at Middleton Public Library. Rex will go to the farthest corners of the universe (literally—what else would those transportation crystals be used for?) to defend the sanctity of the Dewey Decimal System.
Lucien — The Sandman Comic Series by Neil Gaiman
The first Raven of Morpheus, Lucien is entrusted with watching over Morpheus’s crib while he’s away. Though that’s not his only job.
Lucien is also Chief Librarian of a collection that includes every book ever written, conceived, or even dreamt of. Which means he can spend his time perusing the unfinished volumes of Ray Bradbury or flipping through the dream-stories of J.R.R. Tolkien—we’re definitely jealous!
The Library Daemon — Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
There’s a lot going on in Neal Stephenson’s seminal cyberpunk extravaganza, Snow Crash. After all the hacker/samurai shenanigans and trips to the Metaverse and pizza deliveries and nonconsensual brain-rewiring, our hero, Hiro Protagonist, visits the Librarian in order to research ancient Sumerian mythology and language in the hopes of saving people from having their brains scrambled by
The Librarian has been coded to be reassuringly professorial, thus it “looks like a pleasant, fifty-ish, silver-haired, bearded man with bright blue eyes, wearing a V-neck sweater over a work shirt, with a coarsely-woven, tweedy-looking wool tie. The tie is loosened, the sleeves pushed up.” It probably isn’t sentient? Yet.
Mr. Atoz — Star Trek: The Original Series
Like any good librarian, Mr. Atoz helped the inhabitants of Sarpeidon escape the death of their sun by transporting them into their planet’s history, letting them choose a time and place where they could live out the rest of their lives. He also accidentally sent the triumvirate of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy into Sarpeidon’s past in “All Our Yesterdays.” But that could probably happen to anyone.
Jocasta Nu — Star Wars: The Clone Wars
As if passing the trials of the Jedi Academy wasn’t enough to secure her place on this list, Jocasta went on to serve as Chief Librarian of the Jedi Archives where she faced down Darth Vader himself. She refused to ignite the Jedi Beacon, an act of bravery that would be her last. She died as a hero, defending the place, and the people, she wanted most to protect.
Romney Wordsworth — The Twilight Zone, “An Obsolete Man”
In a far future totalitarian state (how totalitarian you ask? Here are their thoughts on Hitler and Stalin: “their error was not one of excess it was simply not going far enough!”) anyone who isn’t of use to the state is deemed “obsolete” and eliminated. And surprise! Books are forbidden, and if you’re a librarian, you are obsolete af, and the state’s gonna kill you. Or, as the evil Chancellor puts it, “Romney Wordsworth, librarian, goes to his own Nirvana. That’s what they call it in your books isn’t it, Mr. Wordsworth?” And then he literally throws a book at him—presumably Michael Azzerad’s Come as You Are. This being The Twilight Zone, the obsolete Mr. Wordsworth responds to the Chancellor with several speeches about the importance of books, and there is, of course, an excellent twist.
A few years ago I might have called this episode ham-handed, but in today’s climate I’m just going to call Romney Wordsworth a hero and move on.
Conan (The Librarian) — UHF
We never get to see a full episode of his show in Weird Al Yankovic’s masterpiece, UHF, but the preview promises a celebration of books, balanced with the bloodthirsty punishments meted out for overdue books.
Night Vale Public Librarians — Welcome to Night Vale
Boasting more than 30 copies of Helen Hunt’s biography, the Night Vale Public Library really is the place to be. And if you’ve been drafted into the summer reading program (“Catch the flesh-eating reading bacterium!”), you really have to be there. Seriously, you have no choice.
But don’t worry, the library is totally safe now! Especially since librarian repellent dispensers have been placed throughout the building. Just remember: if you’re approached by a librarian, remain as still as possible and try to make yourself look bigger than the librarian. Right. Good luck!
Originally published September 2021.