Amazing Libraries around the World
By Sydni Ellis
Libraries are magical places. As a little girl, I remember roaming the shelves, looking for pictures of characters I loved on the covers because I couldn’t read yet. A few years later, I was stacking books so high in my arms that I had to hold them with my chin and my mom had to use her library card to help me check out that many at once. When I was older, the library became a place of escape where I could spend hours with a good book, or researching for a college paper or simply writing. When I had kids of my own, I saw the joy that libraries could bring to a fresh set of eyes. Nothing compares to the joy I felt when my toddler happily picked out hardback books for me to read to him.
I could go on all day about libraries because, well, I think they are all pretty amazing. But in some places around the world (including right here in Texas!), libraries aren’t just a great free resource for the community they are actually works of art themselves! Check out a few of these beautiful places to read, learn and admire around the world.
Most people enjoy flipping through books to see famous artwork, but at the Admont Abbey library in Admont, Austria, you will be greeted with colorful paintings and gorgeous details before you ever touch a book! This library is the largest monastery library in the world. Visitors will be amazed by the peaceful, heavenlike aesthetic of the place featuring limewood carvings, paintings of angels, gold trimmings and more. The most impressive part is the seven ceiling frescoes, painted in 1775-76 that symbolize the various phases of human understanding and the “Divine Revelation.” The library is filled with pretty amazing books too, including 70,000 volumes and 1,400 manuscripts that date back to the 8th century. Being here is a religious experience!
Speaking of all things holy, you have to check out the Book of Kells housed inside the Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, built in 1592. This famous book is a lavishly illustrated manuscript that contains the four Gospels of the New Testament in Latin. After seeing this and other antique books, head upstairs to the iconic Long Room. Here, you will see shelves and shelves of books (200,000 in total!) of the library’s oldest books housed in oak bookcases. In total, the library has over 6 million printed volumes including journals, maps, music, modern releases and more.
If you prefer modern over old-fashioned, then see the Municipal Library in Stuttgart, Germany. This new public library was built less than a decade ago and looks like a grey cube building on the outside. On the inside, the floors filled with bookshelves spiral up and up, lit by a cool blue glow. It’s a total minimalist dream, filled with white floors, white shelves, white stairs and white metal railings on every floor that make the book covers really pop.
With its spiraling oval shape and sleek walls of glass windows, the Central Library in Vancouver, Canada, is another architectural beauty that you have to see. The library itself is actually a nine-story rectangular box filled with books and resources, but the eye-catching part is what surrounds it: a fantastic, colonnaded wall that encircles the area and is filled with reading and study areas. This unique library takes up an entire city block called Library Square and includes office space, restaurants, retail shops, underground public parking and a rooftop garden! This is definitely the most entertaining library to hang out in.
Another amazing European library is the British Library in London, England. This library is actually the largest in the entire world, with more than 170 million items in its collection! There is an artefact here that represents every age of written civilization. And it’s not just books; stored here are also newspapers, sound recordings, patents, prints, drawings, maps, manuscripts and more, with beautiful exhibitions that bring the stories to the public. In fact, this year, there are many fascinating exhibits planned, including “Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights,” which opens this spring. “Unfinished Business” will explore how contemporary fights for gender equality in the UK have their roots in the long history of women’s activism. These will include personal diaries, letters, banners, protest fashion, literature and more to tell the story of the brave women who have fought for equality. Spend hours here researching and learning, surrounded by some of the greatest books in the world!
There are many amazing libraries right here in the United States as well. For example, the Key West Collection Hotels, The Gates Hotel and 24° North Hotel, have created an underwater library, taking the term “beach read” to a whole new level. Near the pool, you can borrow one of many classic novels that are one hundred percent waterproof. No more worrying about rowdy splashers or getting too hot lying on a pool chair. Simply cool off in the crystal-clear water without having to close your book! So, next time you are lost in a Shakespeare play, don’t be afraid to accidentally spill your margarita on it or bring it in the shower with you. It’s every book lover’s dream!
Finally, if you want to check out an impressive library in Texas, head over to the McAllen Public Library. This library won the 2017 Achievement of Excellence in Libraries Award as well as design awards for the phenomenal way it transformed an old Walmart store into the largest single-floor public library in the U.S. Now the library has intimate reading spaces, a computer lab and two genealogy computers, an art gallery, public meeting spaces, an auditorium, a used bookstore, a café and an outdoor Dewey Decimal Learning Trail. One of the most beautiful spots is right outside: a gorgeous circular waterfall feature that welcomes guests from all over.
Underneath the art, design and beautiful layouts of these buildings, at the end of the day, all of these libraries are still just wonderful places to read, research and learn something new. If visiting any of these libraries inspires you to go home and pick up a book, then their job will be complete. And if you get awesome pictures out of your experience, that’s just an added bonus!