WORLD-RENOWNED travel writer Bill Bryson has enjoyed a special bond with Durham ever since he described it as “a perfect little city” in his book Notes from a Small Island.
He urged readers: “If you have never been to Durham, go at once. Take my car. It’s wonderful.”
The love affair was cemented when the American-born author was invited to become Chancellor of the city’s university, a post he held for six and a half years until December last year.
And yesterday he returned to the university to open a new library named in his honour. The Bill Bryson library is part of Gateway, Durham University’s £60m complex which incorporates a new Law School and a dedicated building for student support services, The Palatine Centre at the complex on Stockton Road.
The 60-year-old author, whose works also include The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Notes from a Big Country and A Short History of Nearly Everything, said: “As somebody who has been privileged enough to have books at the centre of my life, I can’t think of any greater honour than to give my name to Durham University’s library and the pursuit of learning for generations to come.
“I once wrote that of all the things I am not very good at, living in the real world is perhaps the most outstanding.
“Libraries and books are a doorway to a whole new world – democratic access to a galaxy of infinite possibilities beyond the routine and the mundane that really make life worth living.”
The Bill Bryson Library, which is built on a former colliery, houses the majority of Durham University’s modern printed book and journal collections. Access is primarily for staff and students but librarians also work with local schools.
University librarian Jon Purcell said: “Feedback from the National Student Survey, social media and our Student Users Forum told us that our students needed a bigger and better library.
“The renaming of the Bill Bryson Library, which never had a site-specific name before, recognises Bill’s time as the university’s 11th Chancellor, his ongoing links with the library, and the continuing development of the site. Bill was a frequent user of the library during his time as Chancellor, and made full use of the study facilities and resources in the course of his research.”
The library service can trace its roots back to 1669, when John Cosin, Bishop of Durham, paid for a library to be constructed on Palace Green close to his residence, Durham Castle, which contained his extensive collection of books. This became the library for the newly-founded Durham University in 1833.
As well as giving his name to Durham University’s main library, Bill Bryson has also become President of the newly-founded Friends of Palace Green library, which will be home to the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition in summer 2013.