Neil Gaiman on our obligation to support libraries


Image via Flickr/Creative Commons. Credit: Kotomi. 

In October 2013, acclaimed author Neil Gaiman – who gave us these wonderful rules for writing – wrote a detailed article in The Guardian – edited from his lecture for the Reading Agency – in praise of libraries. He wrote: “libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.”

Gaiman thus added his voice to those of so many others – among their number astronauts, artists, scientists and politicians – who have praised libraries for the service they provide to our communities; to our societies and cultures. Libraries, after all, are the ideal sanctuary for books.

Yet Gaiman notes a concern that in the modern era people are beginning to forget how valuable libraries – and librarians – are. He writes: “I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.”

Of course, Gaiman knows a thing or two about libraries. He does, after all, have one of the coolest personal libraries that we here at Nothing in the Rulebook have ever seen. And while it may not be totally surprising that someone whose work is filled with references both mythological, historical and literary would have a pretty extensive bookshelf or three, the plethora of books on show in Gaiman’s basement library is still awe-inspiring, and also kind of breath-taking. You can see a full set of pictures over at Shelfari. But here’s a tantalising glimpse for y’all below.


Photography by Kyle Cassidy. Image via Shelfari

And while Gaiman may have an understandable bias to support libraries and literature, there’s little room for argument with his position that we need to do all we can to support libraries – especially at a time when so many are threatened with closure. Engaging and thoughtful, as always, Gaiman argues: “We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.”

Our support for libraries shouldn’t just extend to those famous sites known for the beauty of their architecture or the size of their archives (though of course they are incredible in their own right). Rather, it should be universal – railing against cuts to libraries throughout the UK and elsewhere in the world. Supporting organisations, such as The Library Campaign or Voices for the library, would be a start here.

But perhaps the best way to support both your libraries and yourself is to make use of these fantastic public spaces. Because it’s not just about raising money or social media awareness. Libraries – and literature – are about something more than that. As Gaiman writes: “We all – adults and children, writers and readers – have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.”

Now, if that isn’t enough to get you out and down to your local library, maybe this picture of Neil Gaiman holding some milk will do the trick?


We’re pretty sure you couldn’t resist such a photo. So before you head off to check out the awesome power of libraries and books near you, (and to make sure you never miss a picture of Neil Gaiman holding some milk), subscribe to our free, regular newsletter of everything interesting. 


Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules for writers


Few professions are as solitary – indeed, as secretive – as writing. Yet perhaps a strange quirk in the attitudes of authors is the willingness and desire of writers to share what they know with other students of the craft.

But of course, writing, to put it bluntly, is kind of a strange gig. There is a plethora of advice out there available to writers – aspiring or established – which they can choose to heed or ignore as they see fit. Some might term these pieces of advice as “rules” and, for want of a better term, we might follow them, especially when they come from some of the great masters of writing.

In 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, The Guardian asked authors for their personal lists of dos and don’ts. We’ve gone through the full list, previously bringing you the writing rules of the brilliant Zadie Smith. We’re on the case again, and here bring you some timeless counsel from one of the great writers of the 20th and 21st centuries: Neil Gaiman.

Some of Gaiman’s rules sound deceptively simple, enjoy:

  1. Write
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.


For more excellent wisdom on writing, consider the writing tips from author and creative writing lecturer Julia Bell; and complement that with some priceless advice from Kurt Vonnegut, alongside our compendium of writing advice from some of the greatest authors.

Alternatively, you could get all this and more by signing up to our free, weekly newsletter for everything interesting. Join the gang!