Love Letters To Libraries

Love Letters To Libraries is a week-long series for Scottish Book Week. The Guardian is hosting examples by well-known writers, including Alexander McCall Smith and A L Kennedy.

I like this idea. Here’s mine (sort of).


One of the first things every student does when they arrive at university is collect their library card. Unlike most of the others, however, I didn’t just pick up my card on the first day and head off to the Guild for a beer.

I wanted to see what was on the shelves.

I took the lift up to the floor with the archaeology books. I stared in amazement at the neat ranks of PhD theses in hardback bindings, rows upon rows of bound research papers, and past copies of magazines such as Current Archaeology, Antiquity, and the near-mythical journal of The Palynology Society.

It felt like I’d discovered Buried Treasure.

Not yet, I told myself. You have years to discover all this.

Instead, I made my way to the floor where they kept archive copies of British broadsheet newspapers, hunting for a specific item.

A small notice in the Times, November 1922.

The earliest reports of the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb – a tiny paragraph of cool politeness and understatement.

Remember, at this point Howard Carter had been looking for sixteen years. Lord Carnarvon was on the point of giving up.

There was nothing to suggest that Tutankhamen was anything special, either.

In 1922, Tutankhamen was just an obscure name in the King Lists, a short reign sandwiched between the outrageous schism of Akhenaten‘s new religion and the dynasty which gave us the many pharaohs named Ramesses.

The reports from 1922 speak of promising signs that the tomb had not been disturbed. There were few hints of the treasure we know now.

I stood in the university library living the moment of Carter’s discovery, sand beneath my shoes and a hot desert sun in my eyes.

My thoughts?

“Oh, world, you do not know what’s about to hit you.”

I closed the newspaper and replaced its file back on the shelf. All those years I spent in the library, not once did I go back to re-live the thrill of that moment.

But whenever I think of my time in university, that enchanted hour alone amongst the archives stands out for me as clear as a candle thrust through a hole in a sealed tomb:

“…as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly… For the moment – an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by – I was struck dumb with amazement, and… unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?’ it was all I could do to get out the words, ‘Yes, wonderful things.”
Howard Carter, Tomb of Tutankhamen

University of Birmingham Library at

University of Birmingham Library. No, I don’t know who those people are either.

P.S. as an added bonus, have a look at Library Etiquette over on Redbrick.

Published in: on November 26, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Love Letters To Libraries  
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