The Prince of Wales was joined by leading lights from the arts world as he launched an ambitious £1 million appeal to help save rare books and manuscripts for the nation.
Singer Bryan Ferry and Nobel Prize-winning author VS Naipaul were among those who joined Charles at Lambeth Palace for the event.
Charles, who became patron of the Friends of the National Libraries (FNL) last year, spoke about the importance of literature as he launched the organisation's Prince of Wales Fund.
The Prince, who was joined by wife Camilla at the reception, said: "We simply must, ladies and gentlemen, must protect these treasure houses of our history and of everything that has made our culture and our country great."
Founded in 1931, the FNL supports national and regional libraries and other institutions by giving them grants to buy rare books, manuscripts and archives that might otherwise leave the country.
The charity has begun appealing for contributions to the new fund and has already received donations and pledges of more than £500,000.
Charles told the audience how he developed a love of books at an early age: "I am one of those people who have been very lucky in the sense I was able to spend my childhood at Windsor Castle.
"In due course as I got a little bit older I started exploring the library which, as you can imagine, was absolutely fascinating. I ended up getting covered in dust.
"But also as a child going down to see the book binding and conservation department, where I spent hours with gold leaf and marvellous stamps from the days of King Charles I and before then, which are still there."
He added: "Perhaps you can understand I grew up surrounded by books and all the fascination that goes with the books - the smell, the dust, the occasional strange beetles that eat the paper."
Camilla is also a keen supporter of literature, having presented the Man Booker prize to writers for a number of years, and she is the patron of a number of literacy organisations.
In Lambeth Palace's 17th century library the Prince and Duchess mingled with guests who included Lord Saatchi.
On display were ancient books and manuscripts that had been bought with the help of the Friends of the National Libraries, including a contemporary 1587 copy of Mary, Queen of Scots' execution warrant.
Charles and Camilla were also shown a display by conservators of their book-binding skills.