A Postcard from Alexandria


To me, a library has always been a sacred place. I went there as a child in search of silence and reflection, just as others seek the dim solace of a church. I went there to find answers to my questions, just as others might seek a priest in times of distress. Sometimes I went there simply for the atmosphere — the smell of the books, the soft tread of shoes on worn green carpet, the weight of the silence. The smell of old books takes me back there with the same immediacy that the smell of incense and candle wax has for the Catholic.

Libraries are the accumulated storehouse of our collective memory, containing more volumes than you could ever read or even leaf through in a lifetime. The sum of all our parts: the hardcover stacks of our past, the crinkling present with its smudge of fresh periodical ink, and the paperback shelves of our most distant sci-fi future. They contain our collective consciousness; our deeds, hopes and dreams, and all that we have ever done or thought, both good and bad: nothing less than the thread of our collective growth as a species.

It is in libraries that the incredible miracle of the human race is contained, not in crumbling stones, because it is only in libraries that the story of the human race can come alive. And so, to visit the modern reincarnation of the Library of Alexandria, once the font and seat of all Western knowledge, was for me a form of Hajj, a religious duty.

Photo by Jason George

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

1 Comment

  • It’s funny, I feel the same way about libraries, and sometimes I felt a little like a cat-burglar when I’d sneak into them as a teenager. It felt like a private, personal little indulgence. When I went to New York in August, we had to make our pilgrimage to the New York Public Library. Needless to say, it was awesome. It had been a little while actually, since I’d been in a library. I walked around and soon felt that old feeling wash over me of comfort and wonder and excitement.
    A cherished old friendship. I hope they stay around for a long time.


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