The theme of ‘The Library’ was well and truly covered in the Doctor Who episodes, Silence in The Library and Forest of The Dead, so doing a library themed story has to take a completely different direction. I decided to look at the idea of people actually reading the books.

The theme of the story, of course, is ignorance and knowledge, and how the one can be used against the other. The Doctor, is at first excited by the allegory of Knowledge Triumphing over Ignorance. As a highly educated man, he sees learning as the way to betterment for the individual and the community as a whole, and most of the time he is right. But Ben reminds him that educated people also use their knowledge to keep down those without it. And he also points out that knowing how to read and write would not have improved his own situation as a working class man in Victorian London very much. He was always going to be a wage slave. His life as a thief was a freedom of a kind, and was of his own choice.

But the people of Aneroa have no choices. Ben and Donna stumble upon a very odd truth. The Great Library has only one book in it, a dreary text full of rules that stifle freedom. And up on the top floor, those who rebel against it are chained to desks and forced to read the other books without any means to use the knowledge.
Some readers have asked if it is meant to be a condemnation of the limited value of the national curriculum, or a comment about the restrictions on education in Islamic countries or something of that nature. No, not really. I just wanted to do a story about education and books to tie in with having a character who is just learning to read.

Incidentally, I do have my doubts about a new reader managing the opening lines of The Time Machine. I don’t think somebody like Donna, though she is far from stupid, would know what recondite meant, and it would be meaningless to Ben. But I really don’t think books about dogs called Spot are any use to adult learners. They just make them feel stupid.


The library with its rotunda and galleries of books is loosely based on the Harris Library and Museum in Preston, which has several galleries and a rather nice frieze around the top floor. What it doesn’t have is lots of books on every floor. It is rather disappointing in that respect. The stock in the lending library is quite poor and would probably appal Mr Harris and his Victorian pals who contributed to its construction. It isn’t quite as bad as the Library of Aneroa, though, so maybe there’s hope for it, yet. Meanwhile it remains an impressive and inspiring building.