FORMER Durham University chancellor Bill Bryson said its library being renamed in his honour was the best, nicest and most fantastic thing to ever happen to him, as he unveiled an £11m expansion of the facility today (November 27).

The much-loved author was speaking on his first return to the University since he stood down as chancellor after six-and-a-half years last December and during which he officially opened the Bill Bryson Library’s new East Wing.

The development is part of the University’s £60m Gateway project, which also includes a new law school and administrative HQ, and boasts 500 new study spaces, 30 study rooms and 11.5 miles of shelving across four floors.

The US-born writer said: “I’m really overwhelmed – even more than I expected to be.

“This is the best, nicest, most fantastic thing that’s ever been done to me.

“Durham is a most wonderful place. It’s the most fantastic place in the Universe.

“To me this is Ground Zero for the whole University. To become a permanent part at the very heart of it is amazing.

“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.”

Professor Chris Higgins, the University’s vice-chancellor, said Mr Bryson had become much loved by all during his time as chancellor and it was a great privilege to rename the library, which previously had no specific title, after him.

Mr Bryson was succeeded as Durham University chancellor by Seaham Harbour-born opera star Sir Thomas Allen. The Bill Bryson Library is off South Road, Durham.