Libraries have served as the source of knowledge and cultural development for thousands of years. They have stood the test of time and continue to be institutions of technological and architectural advancements across the world. There are thousands of libraries across the globe, and while each library is riveting and awe-inspiring in their own ways, the library you love the most is extra special. In celebration of national library “shelfie day” — celebrated on the fourth Wednesday of every January— here are several of BookClub’s most favorite libraries from around the world.
The Morgan Library and Museum | New York City, NY | US
Banker Pierpont Morgan was an infamous collector of art and priceless literary treasures. In 1903, he hired Belle da Costa Greene to act as his collection's curator. Greene built Morgan’s collection of rare books and manuscripts, and when Morgan died, his son turned the collection into a museum and research library, opening his collection to the public and naming Greene director.
A pioneer of the modern-day library system, Greene "facilitated widespread collection access through object loans and ambitious photographic services, and promoted the work of distinguished women scholars and librarians.” The Morgan library is a book lover’s dream, with walls of books and a massive stone fireplace where visitors can sit and enjoy the scenery. This private collection contains some of the most priceless literary pieces displayed to the public. Highlights of the collection include Charles Dickens's manuscript of A Christmas Carol, Henry David Thoreau's journals, Thomas Jefferson's letters to his daughter Martha, and the manuscripts and letters of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Lord Byron, Wilkie Collins, Albert Einstein, John Keats, Abraham Lincoln, and John Steinbeck (just to name a few).
The Rampur Raza Library | Rampur, Uttar Pradesh | India
Established in the late 18th century by the Nawabs of Rampur (a family that ruled the area for years), the Rampur Raza Library has since become a repository of Indo-Islamic culture. The library has one of the biggest collections of rare manuscripts, historical documents like the first translation of the Qur’an, artwork, and more. All in all, the library houses as many as 30,000 books in various world languages, so it’s easy to see why this is one of the most influential libraries in the world.
Not only is the library a cultural monument, but with its sky-high ceilings covered in ornate paintings, it’s an architectural phenomenon, often listed as one of the most beautiful libraries in the entire world. Now owned and operated by the government of India, the building itself is massive, so it’s easy to lose yourself in the magic for an hour or two. Even if you only have a moment to enjoy, take a seat in one of the many reading rooms to read a book, magazine, or to simply take it all in.
Seattle Central Library | Seattle, WA | US
The Seattle Central Library opened at its current location in 1906, and has undergone several renovations. The current building was renovated in 2004 by architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Ramus. The pair designed a beautiful modern building with massive glass walls supported by diamond-cut beams. The enormous 404,000 square foot building contains an intricate book sorting system resembling a luggage conveyor belt in an airport.
While it is a symbol of technological advancement, the building pays homage to the treasures it contains —including 1.5 million books and other documents. Nonfiction book collections are arranged in a continuous spiraling Dewey Decimal System ribbon that descends four of the building's eleven stories. According to ArchDaily, the subjects evolve relative to the others, occupying more or less space on the ribbon depending on the subject's popularity.
Library of Alexandria | Alexandria | Egypt
The Library of Alexandria isn’t just an ancient library lost in antiquity and burned down by Julius Caesar, it’s also a major library and cultural center. Rebuilt in 2002 to commemorate the ancient library, it contains shelf space for 8 million books and houses four museums, four temporary art exhibits, 15 permanent art exhibits, a manuscript restoration lab, and a planetarium.
Alexandria University began work on rebuilding the library in 1974, and was able to finally stand up the new library through donations from UNESCO and many of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) states. Designed by an architectural team consisting of ten members from six countries, the library is one of the most diverse in the world. The main reading room is 220,000 square feet and stands beneath a 32-meter (104 foot) high glass paneled roof that is tilted towards the Mediterranean Sea like a sundial. The building sits on the shores of the Mediterranean, and its Aswan granite walls are carved with characters from 120 human scripts. The Library of Alexandria is also trilingual, housing books in English, Classical Arabic, and French, and the 500,000 book donation from the National Library of France in 2010 makes the Library of Alexandria the sixth largest Francophone library in the world. No matter what language you read in, this library’s collection of books, maps, and other artifacts is a must-see.
Library of Parliament | Ottawa | Canada
The Library of Parliament, an iconic building that opened in 1876, is not only an information repository and resource center in Ottawa, it’s a place in which Canadian democracy and research come together. In fact, a team of employees at the library work day in and day out to support parliamentary democracy.
The building has weathered its fair share of trials and tribulations, including several fires that would have destroyed the building in 1916 if it weren't for the first Parliamentary Librarian, Alpheus Todd. Todd had the foresight to suggest to the architects that the library's doors be made of pure, unimpeachable steel, which kept the fires at bay. The beautiful library is a Canadian icon and is also featured on the Canadian ten-dollar bill.
Abbey Library of Saint Gall | St. Gallen | Switzerland
One of the oldest monastic libraries in existence, the Abbey Library of Saint Gall was built around the 8th-century. Perhaps one of the Abbey's most exciting features is its compilation of architectural styles. Period styles from as far back as the High Middle Ages are represented, helping to designate the Abbey and library as a World Heritage Site in 1983.
Visitors can see proof of the historical progression of human knowledge within the library walls, through items like the earliest-known architectural plan drawn on parchment. The 10th-century St. Gall Cantatorium (a collection of chants for Mass), is regarded as the earliest known complete music manuscript globally, and 2,100 manuscripts older than the 14th century call the library home.
The gorgeous spaces above preserve some of the world's more precious literary pieces while providing access for all to gain knowledge and behold architectural wonders. Libraries protect the past while looking towards the future of literature. And while we may not be able to visit them in person due to the pandemic, admiring them online almost does it justice.
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