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Ten Historical Novels Set in Libraries

February is National Library Lover’s Month. I’m a loyal Friend of the Library at my local branch, and I love libraries! It seems fitting, then, to share books that are set in libraries. There are a lot of them, though, so I’ve narrowed it down to ten historical novels set in libraries. Check out these library books!

The War Librarian by Addison Armstrong

“Gripping…Once again, Armstrong has crafted a tale of two women battling the status quo in historical eras that are relevant today…Dual timelines can be tricky, but Armstrong aligns hers perfectly so the issues each woman is dealing with run parallel. Readers won’t want to put this one down.” —Historical Novels Review

This novel alternates between 1918, with a volunteer librarian on the front lines in France during World War I,  and 1976, with a female midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. Both of these women appeal to me because they remind me of my ancestors, who star in my novels. They are women who forge ahead, demanding dignity and respect in a time and place that doesn’t welcome strong women who break the mold.

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

“A love letter to Paris, the power of books, and the beauty of intergenerational friendship.” ― Booklist

Also a dual timeline novel, this one alternates between 1939 and 1983. The earlier timeline follows a woman who joins the Resistance to save her library. Her story includes love, struggle, and betrayal. In 1983, a lonely book-loving teenager in Montana works to discover the secrets of her elderly neighbor. An intergenerational friendship develops between these two. I cheered for their triumphs and felt the depth of their struggles.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

“Davis delves into the history of the New York Public Library in this delightful mystery. . . . The characters and story are stellar, but the real star of the show is the library, which Davis evokes beautifully.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review) 

Another dual timeline novel, this one follows a woman who lives in an apartment in the New York Public Library building in 1918, and her granddaughter in 1993 who works at the library. I enjoyed the concept of a granddaughter returning to a place of her grandmother and working to solve a modern mystery while uncovering family secrets.

The Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson  

“A heartwarming story of how friendship and the written word sustain us in the toughest times.”―Janet Skeslien Charles, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Library

A new release coming this week! (February 2023) This is a novel of World War II, and a woman who creates a library and community underground in London. In addition to the library, the tube station has a theater, cafe, bunk beds, and a nursery. I love this one because it tells of normal women doing extraordinary things.

The Librarian by Christy Sloat (first book of the Librarian Chronicles)

“Mysterious, lyrical, and wonderful. Jack is the perfect book boyfriend you’ll completely fall in love with!” -SJ Davis, NYT Bestselling author 

In a story reminiscent of Outlander, a woman from 2017 is transported back to 1892. She starts out looking for a librarian for her grandmother’s collection of old books, but when she opens one to read it, she finds herself in the past. She falls in love there, of course, and must choose his world or hers.

The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken

“McCracken mixes the proper amount of lunacy with exactly the right amount of sorrow. The blend is reminiscent of such late-20th-century treasures as The Accidental Tourist, The World According to Garp, or A Confederacy of Dunces.”—Denver Post

This novel is set in Cape Cod in 1950 and features a twenty-six year old spinster librarian. She is lonely, and befriends an equally lonely boy. In the course of their friendship, he grows to be over eight feet tall and she grows to love him. Reviews promise this book is quirky and surreal rather than creepy. 

The Librarian Spy by Madeline Martin

“The Librarian Spy by Madeline Martin is a taut story of courage, endurance, and hope at a time when the world was anything but normal.”—Herald-Whig

At the center of this novel is a librarian at the Library of Congress who agrees to spy for the United States in World War II Lisbon. She connects through coded messages with a woman working for the Resistance in France. Together, they dare to find hope and joy during a dark time.

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

“A marvel of a story. This unflinching look at one woman’s meteoric rise through New York’s high society is enthralling, lyrical, and rife with danger. Belle’s painful secret and her inspiring courage will capture – and break – your heart. Serious kudos to Benedict and Murray for bringing this true story to life.” —Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue

This novel is the story of the woman who organized J. P. Morgan’s library at the beginning of the twentieth century. As she becomes a well-known New York City personage, famed for her good taste and negotiation skills, she must protect a secret.  She was a black woman who passed as white for her entire professional career.

The Keeper of Hidden Books by Madeline Martin

Coming in August 2023!

Set in Warsaw during World War II, this book follows a woman who is desperate to save her friend and her books from the Nazi occupation. She hides the books and starts a secret book club, sharing her love of literature with her friend even as the friend is locked up in the ghetto.

The Librarian of Burned Books by Brianna Labuskes 

“For fans of The Rose Code and The Paris Library, The Librarian of Burned Books is a captivating WWII-era novel about the intertwined fates of three women who believe in the power of books to triumph over the very darkest moments of war.”  —from the publisher

Here is another new release! (February 2023) This one follows three women, one in 1933 Berlin, one in 1936 Paris, and one in 1944 New York, and is inspired by the true story of the Council of Books in Wartime. This group of librarians, publishers, booksellers, and authors used books as weapons in the war of ideas. This novel is a testament to their work.

Other novels about libraries:


The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco


The Littlest Library by Poppy Alexander

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick


Death Overdue by Allison Brook (a haunted mystery series set in libraries)

The Liar in the Library by Simon Brett

The Bodies in the Library by Marty Wingate (First Edition library mystery series)

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

Tall Tails Secret Book Club by CeeCee James (Secret Library cozy mystery series)


The Library of Legends by Janie Chang

Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Linda Ulleseit is the award-winning author of The Aloha Spirit and Under the Almond Trees. Her next historical novel, The River Remembers, will be published in June 2023. To interact with her and other historical fiction authors and readers, join Paper Lantern Writers’ Facebook group SHINE.

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