Evidence of the very first libraries was discovered in ancient Sumer, with some dating as far back as 2600 BC. Countless awe-inspiring libraries have been built and enjoyed throughout history. Many of those have been demolished in natural disasters, acts of war, or for other reasons. Fortunately for us, people are still enamored with and fascinated by beautiful libraries and the books that fill them. Here are just a few examples of some of the most stunning libraries in existence today.
Even people who haven’t read a book in years will be inspired by these gorgeous structures.
Trinity College Library
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The Library of Trinity College Dublin offers its services to two universities in Ireland: the University of Dublin and Trinity College. When Trinity College was formed in 1592, the library was also established. This photo depicts the 213 foot-long “Long Room,” which itself houses 200,000 books and numerous marble busts. The harp that served as the model for Ireland’s emblem also can be viewed in the Long Room.
There are several popular ghost stories surrounding the library. The fact that Dracula author Bram Stoker studied here as an undergrad probably doesn’t help quell those rumors.
Admont Abbey Monastic Library
On the banks of the Enns River in Admont, Austria sits a Benedictine monastery. The spectacular Baroque facility houses the largest monastic library in the world. Constructed by Graz Master Builder Josef Hueber, the library was completed in 1776, although the main portion of the monastery was finished in 1074. The Admont Abbey library houses more than 200,000 books and 1,400 incredibly rare manuscripts — some dating back to the 8th century. Seven frescoes, painted by an 80-year-old artist, adorn the ceilings.
The monastery and library are open the library to the public from March through December of each year.
Taipei Public Library Beitou Branch
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This eco-friendly structure is the first green library in Taiwan. It was designed by the architectural firm Bio-Architecture Formosana and first opened in 2006. The library is set within Beitou Park in the Beitou Hot Spring area and makes good use of its beautiful natural surroundings. Built entirely of sustainable wood, the structure is extremely water and energy efficient. Large windows provide natural sunlight to the interior, saving on electricity needs, and ventilation systems cut down on heating and cooling needs. Solar cells on the roof also generate electricity. Captured rainfall is used to flush the facility’s toilets.
The Library Of Congress
This is the largest library in the world! It serves as the main research facility for members of the U.S. Congress and also houses the U.S. Copyright Office. The Library was officially founded in 1800, but the original site (and its collections) were burned and destroyed by British troops. Construction of the current building was completed in 1897, at a cost of $6.5 million. Today, the Library is home to 838 miles of bookshelves, which house over 164 million items! The official Library of Congress website says that 12,000 new items are added to the collections each day.
King Fahd National Library
The King Fahd National Library is Saudi Arabia’s legal deposit and copyright library. You might not guess so just by looking at it, but this striking library is covered in fabric. Located in Riyadh, the library underwent updates by the Gerber Architekten firm in 2013. That unique geometric façade is actually a fabric that acts as a shade against the harsh sun, while still allowing plenty of natural light in. Each night, a color-changing light show plays against the fabric, giving the library the nickname of “the city’s cultural lighthouse.” The King Fahd National Library also features outdoor courtyards and gardens.
National Library Of Sweden
Sweden’s National Library is situated in Humlegården in Stockholm. As with other national libraries, the facility collects all Swedish items in print or audio-visual format. It maintains more than 18 million artifacts, along with 7 million hours of recorded material and an extensive collection of Russian literature. Sixty-two rare and valuable books were stolen from the library in 2004 and are, shockingly, thought to have been stolen by a senior librarian working there. A few of these volumes have been recovered but many others are still missing. The Swedish National library is open to the public.
The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
If you’re interested in history, the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University is likely to have something that interests you. One artifact of note which is held there is a copy of the Gutenberg Bible. Beinecke is one of the world’s largest facilities dedicated to collecting rare books and other materials. Designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft, the eye-catching structure was built between 1960 and 1963. Walls are constructed of a unique granite from Vermont that allows a delicate light to filter in from outside, so as not to harm the rare and sensitive books housed there.
The José Vasconcelos Library
Named for the former president of the National Library of Mexico, José Vasconcelos, this library is located in Mexico City. Vasconcelos was also a philosopher and former presidential candidate. Construction on the library was complete in 2006, but in 2007 the building was found to have structural problems and its doors were closed. The restoration took 22 months and cost roughly $3 million. Library grounds include a botanical garden which showcases native Mexican flora. As Arch Daily notes, the library’s “reading areas offer the user an opportunity for experimenting direct contact with nature. All areas profit from natural lighting and ventilation.”
The George Peabody Library
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The Johns Hopkins University’s Mt. Vernon campus is home to The George Peabody Library, one of the most important research libraries in the world. Originally called the Library of the Peabody Institute of the City of Baltimore, the current building opened in 1878. The primary stack room features several levels of cast-iron balconies that reach up to the skylight, which is a dramatic 61 feet above the ground floor. “The beautiful and cavernous space was described fittingly described as a ‘cathedral of books,’” according to Atlas Obscura. The George Peabody Library holds more than 300,000 books on a wide variety of subjects.
Geisel Library is the main library building on the campus of the University of California San Diego. The unique design by architect William Pereira (in the 1960s) has made it one of the most recognizable buildings on campus, if not in the city of San Diego. The library was named for Theodor Seuss Geisel, known to most of us as the beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss. In fact, Geisel Library houses the Dr. Seuss Collection as part of its archives.
The library pans a total of eight floors, with six of those above ground and two below. It houses more than seven million books.
The Richelieu-Louvois Library
The National Library of France is located in Paris and fills several buildings. One of them is the ornate Richelieu-Louvois Library, seen above. This facility houses a wide variety of materials, including maps, a huge collection of rare manuscripts, music, coins and antiques, and photographs.The Richelieu-Louvois building was completed in 1868 and then expanded in 1875. Another renovation began in 2009. At one point it held the largest collection of books in the world.
Fascinating fact: the reading room pictured above was built with a system of pneumatic tubes to deliver books to patrons!
The Library Of Birmingham
This public library opened in 2013. It cost an estimated $263 million to construct and holds several distinctions including the largest public library and 10th most popular tourist attraction in the United Kingdom. The postmodern building’s many features include rooftop gardens and a sunken amphitheater. The exterior is embellished with interlocking metal rings. In an interview with Dezeen, architect Francine Houben said “I didn’t want to make a brick building, because we needed a lot of light, but I didn’t want to make a glass building either. It’s so beautiful to sit inside because of the reflections and the shadows, and the changing of the weather. It’s different from December to June.”
National Library Of Brazil
With nine million volumes, The Biblioteca Nacional do Brasil (National Library of Brazil) is the largest library in Latin America. It’s also the seventh-largest in the world. This library came about as a result of a major catastrophe — a 1755 earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal. In the aftermath, the contents of the Royal Library of Portugal were transferred to Brazil, although they didn’t receive a formal home of their own until later. In 1810, Brazil’s Prince Regent John issued a decree establishing the National Library.
The library’s director from 1900 to 1924 established the first librarianship course in South America! It was only the third class of its type in the word.
Wolfgang Kaehler / Contributor
Dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, the Strahov Library is one of the largest monastic libraries in the Czech Republic. Two ornate baroque halls are constructed of floor-to-ceiling walnut shelving and their ceilings covered in magnificent frescoes. The main area (Philosophy Hall) of the library is still open to the public, but the side halls are now closed because the moisture in visitors’ breath was damaging to the rare artifacts housed inside. The library has a Cabinet of Curiosities where guests can view “the grotesquely shriveled remains of sharks, skates, turtles and other sea creatures,” according to Lonely Planet. You can also visit the lavishly-stuccoed Theology Hall during your visit to Strahov Library.
Salt Lake City Public Library
Flickr: Pedro Szekely
Salt Lake City is proud of its public library’s main branch, and it should be. The massive 24,000 square foot structure is a sight to behold, and is “one of the most architecturally unique structures in Utah,” according to the library’s official website. Opened in 2003 and designed by architect Moshe Safdie, the facility houses six levels of wonder. From the bottom floor’s retail and service shops to the rooftop gardens to the multiple reading areas with mountain views (and even some fireplaces!), this library is much more than a book repository to the community it serves.
The Abbey Library Of Saint Gall
This gorgeous old library sits in the St. Gallen canton in northeastern Switzerland. It is part of a large monastery that dates back to the 600s. The library itself was built in 1759 and contains roughly 150,000 documents, many of them exceedingly rare. One visitor to the elaborately constructed two-story viewing hall pictured here reported to TeacherTrekker that “[i]t was one of the most breathtaking rooms I have ever stood in. I’m not quite sure what my eyes captured first, but it was definitely sensory overload… The walls are lined with manuscripts, some a thousand years old.”
The British Library
With over 200,000 catalogued items (and three million more added per year!), the British Library is the second largest in the world. The British Library Act of 1972 established the library as an independent organization from the British Museum, where it was previously housed. The facility’s basement contains the equivalent of eight stories of climate-controlled storage and archival space. One of the library’s departments is the King George Library Tower, which contains King George III’s personal collection of books. Today, the library hosts events such as “Harry Potter: A History of Magic,” where staff showcases “rare books, manuscripts and magical objects from the British Library’s collection, capturing the traditions of folklore and magic which are at the heart of the Harry Potter stories.”
Stuttgart City Library
This library in Stuttgart, Germany is one of the newer structures on our list. Construction was completed by the Yi Company in 2011 at a cost of almost $100 million. The square building consists of an exterior promenade of concrete and 9 x 9 frosted glass bricks, which give the entire building a magical glow at night. A meditative space complete with a fountain was designed to mimic Rome’s Pantheon. According to The Coolist, “[t]he visual center of the Stuttgart City Library is its grand atrium, a five-story open chamber that feels like the work of a modernist MC Esher.” Walls of books provide lively pops of color against the building’s sleek white walls.
Seattle Public Library, Central Branch
Flickr: N i c o l a
In 2004, the Seattle Public Library’s Central branch re-opened its doors after a new building was constructed. Attendance more than doubled as a result — no surprise given how stunning the new facility is. The library website says that 4,644 tons of steel were used during construction, which is the equivalent weight of 20 Statues of Liberty. This building was built on a grid system, meaning that it’s able to withstand strong earthquakes and punishing winds. Architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Ramus of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture were the building’s primary designers.
Russian State Library
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Set in Moscow, this is a reading room of the national library of Russia. With a collection of 17.5 million books, the library is the largest in the country (fourth largest in the world). This was Moscow’s first free public library when it was founded in 1862. That first building was quickly outgrown and the current building was finished in 1941. According to Britannica, the Russian State Library is “[o]f a size and importance comparable to the Library of Congress.” The library receives and maintains copies of every publication in Russia.