Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




Guidelines for Using the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library

1. Unlike when visiting Fairyland, you need not worry about the perils of eating or drinking while inside the library. This is because food and drink are strictly prohibited within the stacks. The peril that results from violating this prohibition will be of a mundane sort, most likely the loss of your access privileges.

2. Navigating Widener Library is notoriously difficult. Just remember: to reach the east stacks, go beyond the sun. To reach the west stacks, go beyond the moon.

3. Exercise caution when moving from level to level. If you repeatedly cross from east to west, then west to east, descending (or rising) one level each time, you are treading the path of a classical labyrinth. This has been known to attract minotaurs.

4. When attempting to reach the rare books stored in Houghton Library, you can find the passageway between the buildings in a window on Level Two East. Take care to observe the window’s frame closely as you approach. If it is of horn, you may safely pass through to Houghton. If it is of ivory, the place you arrive will appear to be Houghton, but the books you find there may be detrimental to your sanity.

For guidance in distinguishing horn from ivory, consult an encyclopedia in the reference section.

5. If an elevator opens and the person inside assures you “there is room for one more,” do not enter. First, they are lying; the elevators are much too small to admit an additional occupant, as even a brief glance will show. Second, visit Level D East (via the stairs), where children’s horror stories are shelved, to discover what happens to those who accept such an invitation.

6. Despite the stories you may have heard, you are at no risk of encountering the ghost of Harry Elkins Widener, for whom the library is named. His spirit haunts the North Atlantic, along with all the others who drowned or froze in the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic.

The ghost of his mother, however, can occasionally be found in Level Four West. This spot, which now seems random, is where books on the Titanic were shelved at the time of her death.

7. It is not true that you must pass a swimming test to graduate from the college. However, we recommend you master that skill if you intend to retrieve books from the section on Atlantis, Lyonesse, R’lyeh, and other drowned lands.

8. While food and drink are, as previously mentioned, strictly prohibited in the stacks, certain guardians can only be appeased with ice cream. Fortunately, this is available in all campus dining halls on Sunday evenings.

Although it is available throughout the week, we do not recommend attempting to appease the guardians with soft-serve.

9. Widener Library contains many valuable books (not even counting those stored in Houghton). As the history of previous attempts indicates, though, it is not considered advisable to steal from the collection. Mrs. Widener paid for the construction of the library out of her own pocket, in memory of her deceased son, and her ghost does not look kindly upon would-be burglars. Furthermore, cleaning up what remains of you afterward inconveniences our hard-working janitorial staff.

10. The dual classification systems at use in Widener Library may be confusing, but they have their own logic. Books on Dante which have been shelved according to the Old Widener system are on the lowest level. This is D, for which the mnemonic “D as in Dante” may be useful. Books on Dante which have been shelved according to the Library of Congress system are on the highest level, six. There is no helpful mnemonic for this, but a little thought may suggest a logical relationship between these locations and the poet’s works.

The hope you abandoned at the door to Level D may be reclaimed at the main circulation desk on Level One.

11. Do not stack the Hebrew-language books, which may also be found on Level Six, any higher than your knee. Courtesy of multiple bequests for the purchase of such materials, Widener Library owns a copy of every book ever published in Hebrew, and stacking them into too high of a Tower may invite divine retribution. (There are long-standing proposals to reduce this risk by shelving the books on a lower level, but due to space difficulties, these have not yet been implemented. We apologize for the inconvenience.)

12. Do stop to enjoy the fresh flowers in the Widener Memorial Rooms before you depart. They are completely harmless and ordinary.

13. This edition of the “Guidelines for Using the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library” is current as of the year 1998 CE. If you should happen to have entered the library in a different year, or now find yourself in one unexpectedly, editions of these guidelines for the years 1915, 1937, 1945, 1960, 1969, 1984, 2004, 2020, 2051, 2065, 2078, and 2091 may be found in the Main Reading Room (also known as the Loker Reading Room and the Judd Reading Room, depending on your current decade). Our researchers have not been able to determine why there are no guidelines post-dating 2091; theories range from the destruction of the library to a simplification of its complex systems. If you should happen to discover the reason, please submit your findings to the librarian on Level E North.

Please enjoy our library, which is famous world-wide! We wish you the best of luck in using it and departing again safely.

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Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan. A white woman in a green jacket with long brown hair looking at the camera with a serious expression.

Marie Brennan is a former anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for inspiration. She recently misapplied her professors’ hard work to The Game of 100 Candles and the short novel Driftwood, and together with Alyc Helms as M.A. Carrick, she is the author of the Rook and Rose epic fantasy trilogy, beginning with The Mask of Mirrors. The first book of her Hugo Award-nominated Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent, A Natural History of Dragons, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Her other works include the Doppelganger duology, the urban fantasy Wilders series, the Onyx Court historical fantasies, the Varekai novellas, and over seventy short stories, as well as the New Worlds series of worldbuilding guides. For more information, visit, her Twitter @swan_tower, or her Patreon at