Libraries represent man's most successful attempt in democratizing knowledge. In the modern age, these magnificent institutions have also developed into important social structures that facilitate not just the reading of books, but a meeting point of different people, different ideas, discussion and debate. Libraries, especially the ones featured on this list tend to be the epicenter of activity in neighbourhood in which they are located. Here is a list of 10 of the best libraries in the world, ones that we wished we could spend whole days in, if only they were closer home.
#10 The Library of Alexandria, Alexandria, Egypt
The Library of Alexandria was the greatest library in antiquity, and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The new rebuilt Library of Alexandria hopes to one day match the precedent set by its illustrious predecessor. The Library cost $220 million to build and was completed in 2002. The Library doubles as a cultural center, and contains a planetarium, a manuscript restoration lab, art galleries and exhibition space, museums, a conference center, as well as libraries for children, young adults, and the blind. While the library contains space for over 8 million books, the library growing number of available titles currently stands at around 500,000.
#9 George Peabody Library, Baltimore, Maryland
The George Peabody Library is the research library of Johns Hopkins University. The Library was a part of the Peabody Institute from 1878 until 1967 when it became owned by the city of Baltimore, eventually passing to Johns Hopkins in 1982 where it now holds the University’s special collections. The library is well known for housing the worlds foremost collections of Don Quixote editions, and many of the other titles date back as far as the 19th century. Often described as a “cathedral of books.” - the interior features a 61 foot high atrium, a beautiful black and white marble floor, and many balconies and golden columns. The library is open to browsers.
#8 Jay Walker’s Private Library
Jay Walker is an American inventor and entrepreneur who used his wealth to develop a notable private library. Walker calls his Library “The Walker Library of the History of Human Imagination.” Located in his home in Connecticut, the library contains more than 50,000 books including many early titles and books worthy of making it to the most premier museums in the world. The surreal architecture takes its inspiration from the work of M.C. Escher. Wired Magazine called the library “the most amazing library in the world”. The only reason the library is so low on this list is because it is not open to public.
#7 Abbey Library of Saint Gall, St. Gallen, Switzerland
The picture postcard Abbey Library of Saint Gall is the oldest library in Switzerland and boasts about 160,000 volumes. This is one of the oldest monastery libraries in the world, and holds manuscripts from as far back as the 8th century. The library is also a World Heritage site since 1983. Many of the rare manuscripts that the library holds can be accessed through an online portal, and the public is welcome to use the library, although books dating before 1900 can only be read on site.
#6 New York Public Library, New York, New York
The famous New York Public Library is awe inspiring in its layout, scope and size. It is the the third largest library in North America, has over 50 million items in its collection. It consists of 87 libraries serving 3.5 million people. The Rose Main Reading Room is a treat for the eyes too. The Library special collections include the first Gutenberg Bible to come to America. One of the most recognizable libraries in the world due to its appearances in many Hollywood movies, and even a key setting in the movies “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Ghostbusters”.
#5 Seattle Central Library, Seattle, WA
The breathtaking Seattle Central Library opened in 2004 and features a beautiful glass and steel modern design created by architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus of OMA/LMN. The goal of the design was to make an inviting open and airy space, and breaking the popularly held notion of libraries being dark and stuffy, and thus hopefully inspiring a whole new demographic of previously uninitiated library users. The library can hold up to 1.45 million books and materials, and serves over 2 million patrons a year.
#4 Boston Public Library
Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library was the first publicly funded library in the US. It has since grown to its present collection size of 22 million items, making it the second largest library in the United States. The library's McKim building was built in 1895 and contains many beautiful murals, including Edward Abbey’s most famous that depicts the legend of the Holy Grail. The main room of the McKim building is Bates Hall, known for its grand coffered ceiling. The research collection at McKim is made up of over 1.7 million rarities including many medieval manuscripts, incunabula, early Shakespeare that includes a First Folio, colonial Boston records, a major Daniel Defoe collection, and the libraries of many famous men of history including John Adams, William Lloyd Garrison, and Nathaniel Bowditch.
#3 Reading Room at the British Museum, London, England
The Reading Room at the British Museum is found in the center of the Great Court of the British Museum. It features a domed roof, with the ceiling made of a variety of papier-mâché. For much of the Room’s history, access was only granted to registered researches, and during this period many notable figures studied at the Library, including Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Mahatma Gandhi, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, Mark Twain, Lenin, and H.G. Wells. The Library’s collection was moved to the new British Library in 2000 and the Reading Room now houses an information center and a curated collection of books relating to history, art, travel and other subjects relevant to the collection’s of the British Museum.
#2 Bodleian Library, Oxford, UK
The Bodleian Library is the library of the University of Oxford. Established in 1602 it is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. The Library has over 11 million items, and many items of historical import, including four copies of the Magna Carta, a Gutenberg Bible, and Shakespeare’s First Folio (from 1623.) The Library consists of multiple buildings, perhaps the most visually interesting of which is Radcliffe Camera. It’s the earliest circular library in England, and has appeared in multiple films, including “Young Sherlock Holmes”, “The Saint”, “The Red Violin”, and “The Golden Compass”.
#1 Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
The Library of Congress is effectively the national library of the United States and the oldest federal cultural institution in the US. The library consists of three different buildings and is the largest library in the world. The library is open to the public, but only members of congress and other important government officials may check out books. The library also serves an important function as the “library of last resort” in the US, ensuring the availability of certain items to various libraries around the United States. The holdings of the library are extremely impressive, they include - over 32 million books, more than 61 million manuscripts, a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, a perfect vellum copy of the Gutenberg Bible (one of only four in the world), over 1 million newspapers from the last three centuries, over 5 million maps, 6 million pieces of sheet music, and more than 14 millions photos and prints.