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Have you ever found yourself pleasantly working in the library when suddenly the lights flicker and the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention? Have you ever asked a busy librarian for assistance only to later learn that the librarian you had consulted had perished under mysterious circumstances fifty years ago? In the course of your research have you ever read a line of oddly scrawled text out loud, thereby unleashing an ancient eldritch horror from its dreamless slumber? Have you ever found yourself playing a sinister game of hide and seek as you are stalked through the stacks by a malevolent monster? If you answered in the negative to any of these questions, consider yourself lucky. And if you answered in the affirmative, know that you are not alone!
According to extensive research conducted by a team of expert librarians, crypto-zoologists, and occultists, approximately 3 out of every 47 paranormal incidents occur at a library. And though, as you might expect, rare book collections are statistically more likely to be the site of such occurrences, they have also been known to occur at public libraries and academic libraries. A painstaking survey of books, films, and television programs has revealed that libraries are often treated as settings for strange tales of the macabre and terrifying—with the librarians being alternately portrayed as heroes, helpers, victims, or agents of the dark powers. Yet, the overarching point is clear: when you go to the library to get a book, you may well find yourself trapped in a paranormal scenario.
Thus, a range of experts have been consulted in order to provide you with these tips for surviving in such a scenario. It is presented near Halloween as careful analysis reveals that there is a significant uptick (41%) in such scary situations in this month.
Beware! But also, be aware!
Follow the library’s rules
To be clear from the outset, the point here is not to discourage you from going to the library. Let us state that again for absolute clarity, the point here is not to discourage you from going to the library. You should absolutely go to the library, after all, you could easily find yourself stuck in a tale of terror unfolding at any number of other locations. That being said, our careful research and statistical analysis suggests that there are certain rules that are usually in place to protect library patrons from falling victim to the sorts of foul occult entities that often prey upon libraries. These particular rules are often known as “the library rules and policies,” and though they may seem banal and distinctly non-occult, they have actually been carefully constructed with the goal (at least partially) of protecting library patrons from vengeful spirits. Let us give a clear example: imagine that you are hanging out with a group of friends when one of them (you know, the one with the prankster streak) suggests that you all sneak into the library after it is closed so that you can perform a séance in the rare book room. In this case you should clearly and emphatically say “no, the library is closed.” You should also refrain from sneaking into “staff only” areas, you should never try to sneak out a book that an aged librarian has warned you “must never leave this library,” and you should not eat in the library unless you are certain it is permitted.
Remember, these rules aren’t just there to protect the books and the library—they are also there to protect you from demonic possession.
Be careful what you work with
Within any library collection (but especially within a rare book and manuscript collection), there are a certain number of items that are surrounded by an aura that is at once alluring and unnerving. Ideally, such items have been safely secreted away into the most secure vaults of the library (never to see the light of day), and sometimes they have had their item records repressed in the library catalog so that unsuspecting patrons won’t stumble across them. And yet, sometimes a patron or a librarian finds themselves handling an item that is almost certainly cursed.
It is recommended that you avoid requesting, reading, or handling the following types of items:
Leave the Library
According to three noted occultists, and two experts in the paranormal, a staggering 73% of terrifying creatures that can be encountered in libraries are to some extent bound to those locations. Thus, if you find yourself being stalked through the stacks by some vengeful book-bound spirit, shuffling eldritch horror, or angry construct made of discarded tomes – all that you might need to do to secure your safety is to leave the library. Therefore, when you enter any library one of the first things you should do is familiarize yourself with the exits and put a little bit of planning into the quickest way to these exits. In fairness, knowing how to exit the library in the event of an emergency is just generically good advice and will serve you well whether you are being pursued by a haunted booktruck or whether you just need to exit the building due to a fire. All that being said, please remember that leaving the library will only protect you from 73% of terrifying library creatures – nevertheless, it’s a good thing to try. Granted, many of the malevolent forces that are bound to libraries have a tendency to make it hard for their victims to flee libraries. Incidentally: people who tried to flee vengeful library forces but were trapped in the library is how most rare book librarians get their start in the field.
Ask for Assistance
A good librarian can help you navigate through the (metaphorical) minotaur filled labyrinth that is the library stacks. And should you find yourself pursued by a (literal) minotaur as you fitfully try to trace your way through library stacks that seem increasingly labyrinth like – you’ll probably want to seek a librarian’s assistant. Though it is a closely guarded secret of the librarian’s craft (so don’t tell anyone), in most job postings for librarians one of the duties listed is “other duties as necessary.” What often goes unsaid is that “other duties as necessary” means “help library patrons battle paranormal forces that they have unwittingly unleashed.” Should you find yourself caught up in a horror movie type situation set in a library, you should seek out a librarian for assistance as soon as possible (though this will be hard to do if you’ve broken the library’s rules and snuck in after closing). The librarian will be able to direct you to the book with the proper incantation to seal the gate to the abyss you’ve opened, they will be able to direct you to the microfilm reel that will reveal the weakness of the undead beast pursuing you, and they will be able to provide you access to the library’s cache of broadswords. Furthermore, if you are finding that many of the exits have been blocked or locked, the librarian is likely to be able to get you out of the building by the staff exit.
Of course, if you’re asking the librarian for assistance you’ll want to make sure that the librarian isn’t in league with the evil forces (17% of librarians are), and you’ll also want to make sure the librarian isn’t a ghost.
Bonus Section! How to Know if the Librarian is a Ghost
Many years ago a group of documentary filmmakers stumbled upon the ghost of a librarian, still working fairly contentedly in the stacks. Due to pressure from librarian organizations, the documentary was scuttled, though some of that footage was recycled into a popular film that had to deal with, shall we say, busting ghosts. It is the height of rudeness, and peril, to ask a librarian if they are a ghost; thus, for the sake of keeping you safe, here are some ways to know if the librarian you’ve encountered is a ghost. But please note “probably” does not mean “definitely.”
There is no shame in hiding. After all, hiding might buy you precious time (in which the library may reopen and the librarians may return). Or, hiding might convince whatever foul entity is pursuing you to instead go after someone else (though this may just mean it goes after your friends). Hiding will give you time to gather your thoughts, provide you an opportunity to regain your strength, and will allow you to consider the possibility that this might all just be nightmare (sorry, it isn’t). Most libraries are filled with a variety of excellent areas to hide in, ranging from seldom used rooms, to closets, to staff only areas, to crypts filled with stone sarcophagi, to rows upon rows of shelves. You should have no trouble finding a good place to hide by yourself, or with others. That being said, you should recognize that there’s a good chance that evil entity pursuing you knows the library better than you do – so while hiding can be a good temporary solution, don’t mistake it for a long term plan.
Avoid the compact shelving
A problem that has vexed many a library is the challenge of simply not having enough space for all of the books and other materials that need to be shelved. In some cases, librarians have turned to the dark arts, and to bargaining with inter-dimensional beasts, in order to solve this problem (some libraries really are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside). Yet, in most cases libraries have solved this problem by installing what is commonly called “compact shelving.” Such shelves are set on little tracks and at the end of the row there is usually some manner of crank (or automated system) that can be used to slide the shelves back and forth. This can be a real space saver! However, as you can certainly imagine, this is exactly the type of thing that the hapless protagonist in a horror movie is liable to find themselves crushed in as they seek a safe hiding spot from whatever is pursuing them. You may like to believe that these compact shelves cannot be shut with the level of force that would be required to crush a person, but if you think that it is only because your mind has not yet come to reckon with the various bestial cryptids that stalk a library at night. You are better off staying out of the compact shelving.
Do some research
After consulting with a range of experts, we feel that we can safely report that 89 out of 100 of them confirmed that every monster has some kind of weakness. Of the 11 who did not share this view, 5 clammed up and yelled that they had already said too much, 3 were chanting incantations in a language known by no mortal person, 2 tried to sell us a “definitely not cursed” ancient tome, and 1 smiled oddly and only replied “the master has awakened” – but let’s focus on the 89! If every monster has a weakness than you need to find a way to discover that weakness. Contrary to what video games may have taught you, the weak point of most dangerous ancient evils cannot be found merely by looking for the part of them that lights up. Rather, in order to learn the weakness of the beast that is pursuing you, it is likely that you will have to do some research. Luckily for you, a library is an ideal place to conduct research, regardless of if you’re trying to write a history paper or if you’re trying to banish a creature from beyond space and time back to the void from whence it has slithered. If your whole sordid, horrific, affair began when you read a few lines from an aged tome, you should try and find that volume again as it may well reveal the secret for setting things right. If not, head to the library catalog and try to determine which library resources may best assist you in your battle against the paranormal (you may want to ask a librarian for assistance). When pursued by a shambling paper demon it may be tempting to flee in terror from one hiding spot to the next, but it’s probably worth searching for “shambling paper demon” in the library catalog – you may be surprised by what you find!
A library is not a police station, a military barracks, a home improvement store, or an outdoor survival store. Therefore, you are unlikely to find much in the way of heavy weaponry in a library (which is usually a good thing). Furthermore, while many a museum may have a collection of arms and armor, a library is unlikely to have such a collection (this isn’t necessarily bad, most of the items of arms and armor held in museums are cursed). That being said, there are still certain things that you should pick up (assuming you have the right item proficiencies) that may be useful as weapons should you have no choice but to do battle with the ghastly force pursuing you:
Whatever you do, no fire
Let’s say you are being pursued by a book golem, a sentient cloud of pages that have risen from an archival box, or a rickety wooden book cart that is possessed by the spirit of the librarian it ran over three hundred years ago – you may think that the best way to deal with these problems would be fire. But you are wrong! Fire has no place in a library! Even joking about fire has no place in a library! Trying to defeat a library lurking monster with fire is the quickest way to enrage all of the other monsters living in the library (not all of which are chasing you at the moment). And there are few curses stronger than that which is placed upon those who burn books. Consider yourself informed!
Confront the foul force pursuing you
When all else fails, sometimes you have no choice but to stand your ground and do battle with the book cradle of Asmodewey, the troll with a whip made of weighted snakes, the microfilm mummy, the cult of the painted book jacket, the photocopier with a taste for human flesh, or whatever particular being is hunting you. Hopefully, before you reach the stage where you are confronting the monster (or monsters), you have had the opportunity to discover its weakness and gather supplies (if not, this won’t be a long battle). To the best of your ability try to make sure that this battle takes place in a space that you have chosen, and if possible try to let battle commence in a place where you’ll do minimal damage to other library materials. Also, should you prevail in the fight, make sure that your enemy is really defeated. And then, after you’re certain that your enemy is really defeated, check again. And then, after you’re really really certain that your enemy is really really defeated, check again. You aren’t the first person to think that you’ve defeated the cursed tome of the archi-vist, and if you aren’t careful you won’t be the last either.
And, be aware, paranormal situations tend to spawn sequels (alas), so if you’ve found yourself locked in combat with uncanny forces in the library once…it’s probably going to happen to you again. Without realizing it you may have been marked by the bookstamp of the nether realm.
But remember, this is one of the ways to get a job in a library
Classified studies of the profession reveal that a fairly large percentage of librarians got their start working in libraries due to some confrontation with haunted/eldritch/malevolent/cursed forces that they encountered whilst passing through that library for another purpose. In many cases a librarian has agreed to work in the library as a way of appeasing the void born entity they accidentally unleashed. In still other cases the librarian has been possessed by a spirit bound to the library, and will therefore continue serving the library until they too become a spirit bound to the library. And in still other cases the librarian is not actually a librarian but is a stack of books come to life by foul magic that only appears to be human! Similarly, multiple librarians have proudly stated that they were offered jobs (or promotions) only after vanquishing a particular carnivorous photocopier or dispatching a significantly troublesome spirit. All of which is to say if you’ve gone to library school and are having a hard time breaking through the job market, there are worse ways to get hired than by interacting with a cursed manuscript. Sure, there are some downsides to being eternally bound to the library by a contract signed in blood with your true name, but it’s still one of the quickest ways to get access to the staff kitchen.
More Very Serious Advice Pertaining to Books and Libraries