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The 20 Most Incredible Libraries Around the World

While for many people libraries may seem like an outdated institution, they still serve a significant role in our society, as both a public space, and space of archival collection. While you may not even be interested in taking out a book, there are many libraries around the world that are worth visiting just for their architecture. 

The History of Libraries 

The first libraries consisted of archives of the earliest form of writing – the clay tablets in cuneiform script discovered in temple rooms in Sumer, some dating back to 2600 BC.About an inch thick, tablets came in various shapes and sizes. Mud-like clay was placed in the wooden frames, and the surface was smoothed for writing and allowed to dry until damp. After being inscribed, the clay dried in the sun, or for a harder finish, was baked in a kiln. For storage, tablets could be stacked on edge, side by side, the contents described by a title written on the edge that faced out and was readily seen. The first libraries appeared five thousand years ago in Southwest Asia’s Fertile Crescent, an area that ran from Mesopotamia to the Nile in Africa. Known as the cradle of civilization, the Fertile Crescent was the birthplace of writing, sometime before 3000 BC. (Murray, Stuart A.P.) These archives, which mainly consisted of the records of commercial transactions or inventories, mark the end of prehistory and the start of history. Things were much the same in the government and temple records on papyrus of Ancient Egypt. The earliest discovered private archives were kept at Ugarit; besides correspondence and inventories, texts of myths may have been standardized practice-texts for teaching new scribes. There is also evidence of libraries at Nippur about 1900 BC and those at Nineveh about 700 BC showing a library classification system.

Over 30,000 clay tablets from the Library of Ashurbanipal have been discovered at Nineveh, providing modern scholars with an amazing wealth of Mesopotamian literary, religious and administrative work. Among the findings were the Enuma Elish, also known as the Epic of Creationwhich depicts a traditional Babylonian view of creation, the Epic of Gilgamesh a large selection of “omen texts” including Enuma Anu Enlil which “contained omens dealing with the moon, its visibility, eclipses, and conjunction with planets and fixed stars, the sun, its corona, spots, and eclipses, the weather, namely lightning, thunder, and clouds, and the planets and their visibility, appearance, and stations”, and astronomic/astrological texts, as well as standard lists used by scribes and scholars such as word lists, bilingual vocabularies, lists of signs and synonyms, and lists of medical diagnoses.

The tablets were stored in a variety of containers such as wooden boxes, woven baskets of reeds, or clay shelves. The “libraries” were cataloged using colophons, which are a publisher’s imprint on the spine of a book, or in this case a tablet. The colophons stated the series name, the title of the tablet, and any extra information the scribe needed to indicate. Eventually, the clay tablets were organized by subject and size. Unfortunately, due to limited bookshelf space, when more tablets were added to the library, older ones were removed, which is why some tablets are missing from the excavated cities in Mesopotamia. According to legend, mythical philosopher Laozi was keeper of books in the earliest library in China, which belonged to the Imperial Zhou dynasty.  Also, evidence of catalogues found in some destroyed ancient libraries illustrates the presence of librarians.

Almost every great civilization that followed built libraries, which were repositories of knowledge often gleaned from far and wide. Some were so large and comprehensive that their legend lives on today. The Library at Alexandria in Egypt, for example, is believed to have held perhaps as many as 700,000 documents from Greece, Persia, Egypt, India, and other regions. It was so large that it had a branch facility at the nearby temple of Serapis. The world-famous Bayt al-Ḥikmah (House of Wisdom) in Baghdad, established in 830 CE, was another “super library” famous for a huge collection, and the 10th-century library of Caliph al-Ḥakam in Cordova, Spain, boasted more than 400,000 books. Rome and Athens also boasted expansive libraries, as did cultures in other parts of the world, such as China and the Mayan and Aztec civilizations of Central America.

The goal of ancient libraries was simple: to collect knowledge, learn from it, and use it to make life better. Important advances in agriculture, architecture, medicine, art, manufacturing, war, and more were all disseminated via these vast collections. As the centuries went on, people started to realize the benefits of having publicly accessible hubs of knowledge, and libraries became commonplace in cities and towns all over the globe. Of course, everything changes with time, and that includes the function of libraries. Before the Internet they were community centers where everyone was invited to sip at the cup of knowledge. But, as the influence of the Internet grew in the 1990s and 2000s, many speculated that there would no longer be a need for libraries—everything you could possibly want to know or learn would be just a mouse click away.

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Community libraries still flourish, more popular than ever. One reason is that not everything can be found on the Internet; an astonishing amount of information resources and ephemera remain available only on paper or other media at libraries. Sometimes, to get what you want, you have to physically go there; the Internet isn’t all-knowing. And, despite the convenience of the Internet, people still enjoy visiting libraries. They find comfort within the warrens of shelves packed high with books and appreciate the smiling faces of librarians eager to help. Parents bring their children to the library as a youthful rite of passage, while older people enjoy a literary repast in air-conditioned comfort—all for free.Whereas the popularity of the Internet was once considered a harbinger of the decline of libraries, many sites in today’s digital domain have become sources of knowledge advancement—in essence, libraries without walls. They allow visitors to locate works that may be unavailable at their local libraries and download them for later reading on their computer or device. 

The 20 Most Spectacular Libraries Around the World 

1. Austrian National Library, Vienna, Austria

The Austrian National Library  is the largest library in Austria, with more than 12 million items in its various collections. The library is located in the Neue Burg Wing of the Hofburg in center of Vienna. Since 2005, some of the collections have been relocated within the Baroque structure of the Palais Mollard-Clary. Founded by the Habsburgs, the library was originally called the Imperial Court Library, the change to the current name occurred in 1920, following the end of the Habsburg Monarchy and the proclamation of the Austrian Republic. The library complex includes four museums, as well as multiple special collections and archives. The former Court Library was created in the first half of the 18th century as a private wing of the Hofburg imperial residence. Emperor Karl VI. ordered its construction. The library was built by Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach according to plans of his father, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach.

The impressive state hall of the library is almost 80 m long and 20 m high and is crowned by a dome that is magnificently decorated with frescoes by the court painter Daniel Gran. More than 200,000 volumes are exhibited here, among them the comprehensive library of Prince Eugene of Savoy as well as one of the largest collections of Martin Luther’s writings from the Reformation Era.Among the exhibits are two exquisite Venetian baroque globes: one for the earth and one for the sky, each with a diameter of more than one meter. An intricately decorated dome and numerous frescos provide an imperial flair. This baroque jewel is home to over 200,000 tomes. Four magnificent Venetian globes, each with a diameter of over one metre, provide the finishing touch to the heart of the Austrian National Library.


2. Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a revival of the legendary ancient library built in classical Greek times. The rebuilding of the library has returned Alexandria to its former status as a centre for learning and exchange and provided the city with a landmark building. The spirit of international cooperation in which the library was conceived, funded, designed and implemented has been maintained in its management to create an institution that is truly global in its outlook. At the same time, the building is technically outstanding.

The idea of reviving the ancient library was first proposed in 1972 by Mostafa El-Abbadi, a professor at Alexandria University. The Egyptian government decided to sponsor the project, and it received international publicity and support through UNESCO. A site was selected adjacent to Alexandria University and near the location of the ancient library. Construction of the $200 million structure was completed in 2001, and the library’s design drew worldwide praise. Essentially, the library is a massive cylinder emerging from the ground at a shallow angle only about 130 feet (40 metres) from the Mediterranean Sea. The disk-shaped roof suggests the sun rising over the Mediterranean, and the roof pattern of aluminum and glass panels resembles a microchip. One outer wall of the structure is made up of some 6,400 granite panels bearing characters from all the known alphabets. The complex was officially opened on October 16, 2002. The library was designed to house eight million volumes on seven cascading levels. The collection is shelved so that the oldest materials occupy the lowest level, forming a metaphoric foundation for later works. In addition, the library houses a planetarium, a school of library and information science, facilities for the digital preservation of rare books and manuscripts, and a conference centre.


3. Bodleian Library, Oxford, United Kingdom

The Bodleian Library is the main research library of the University of Oxford, and is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. It derives its name from its founder, Sir Thomas Bodley. With over 13 million printed items, it is the second-largest library in Britain after the British Library. Whilst the Bodleian Library, in its current incarnation, has a continuous history dating back to 1602, its roots date back even further. The first purpose-built library known to have existed in Oxford was founded in the 14th century under the will of Thomas Cobham, Bishop of Worcester (d. 1327). This small collection of chained books was situated above the north side of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin on the High Street. This collection continued to grow steadily, but when Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (brother of Henry V of England) donated a great collection of manuscripts between 1435 and 1437, the space was deemed insufficient and a larger building was required. A suitable room was finally built above the Divinity School, and completed in 1488. This room continues to be known as Duke Humfrey’s Library. After 1488, the university stopped spending money on the library’s upkeep and acquisitions, and manuscripts began to go unreturned to the library.

The Clarendon Building was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and built between 1711 and 1715, originally to house the printing presses of the Oxford University Press. It was vacated by the Press in the early 19th century, and used by the university for administrative purposes. In 1975, it was handed over to the Bodleian Library, and now provides office and meeting space for senior members of staff. The New Bodleian building was rebuilt behind its original façade to provide improved storage facilities for rare and fragile material, as well as better facilities for readers and visitors. The new building concept was designed by WilkinsonEyre and the MEP design was undertaken by engineering consultancy Hurley Palmer Flatt. 


4. Musashino Art University Museum & Library, Tokyo, Japan

One of the most interesting projects I’ve seen in a while, the Musashino Art University Museum & Library proposes a new relation between the user and the books, surrounded and sheltered by them. We had the chance to ask Sou Fujimoto about the challenge of designing this program in the information age, as you can see on the above video. This project is a new library for a highly distinguished art universities in Japan. It involves designing a new library building and refurbishing the existing building into an art gallery, which will ultimately create a new integration of the Library and the Art Gallery.  

The project described hereinafter is the plan of the new library which sits within the first phase of the total development. Acting as a huge ark, a total of 200,000 units, of which 100,000 will be in an open-archive, while the other half, within a closed-archive, rests within this double-storey library of 6,500㎡ in floor area. It is a library made from bookshelves.

The domain encased within the infinite spiral itself is the library. An infinite forest of books is created from the layering of 9m high walls, punctuated by large apertures. This spiral sequence of the bookshelf continues, eventually wrapping the periphery of the site as the external wall to allow the external appearance of the building to share the same elemental composition of the bookshelf as the library. One’s encounter with the colossally long bookshelf, within the university landscape, registers instantaneously as a library, yet astonishing in its dreamlike simplicity. It is the library most library-like and the simplest library.


5. Vennesla Library and Cultural Center, Vennesla, Norway

Serving as the cultural hub of Vennesla, Norway, the wood-and-glass library houses nearly 80,000 items in its collection along with a cafe and venues for concerts, shows, and art exhibitions. Helen & Hard Architects designed the 27 ribs wrapping around the ceiling and walls to house the bookshelves and create personal study rooms. For their new library and community center in Vennesla, Norwegian architects Helen & Hard bring a sophisticated elegance to the public facility in Norway. The project links an existing community house and learning center, and seeks to become an extension of the main city square with its transparent facade and urban loggia. The expressive ribs combine structure, technical infrastructure, and functionality into one architectonic element that creates a dynamic aesthetic identity for the project to meet the client’s original intent to mark the city’s cultural center.

27 prefabricated glue-laminated timber ribs define the spatial expression of the interior, and their offset construction allows the curves to function as spatial interfaces with inset lighting elements to provide a soft glow to the interiors and acoustic absorbents which contain the air conditioning ducts.  “In this project, we developed a rib concept to create useable hybrid structures that combine a timber construction with all technical devices and the interior,” explained the architects.The ribs change throughout the interior to inform different spaces; at the main entrance, the rib spans the entire width of the building and then slowly condense to create more intimate rooms.  While the building’s roof is informed by the geometry of the curves, the massing along traces the natural lines of the site and responds to the main street by folding down towards it.

Typical of Helen & Hard’s work, the project also focuses on reducing the energy need through the use of high standard energy saving solutions in all new parts of the project. The library is a “low-energy” building, defined as class “A” in the Norwegian energy-use definition system.


6. University of California San Diego Geisel Library, San Diego, United States of America

The Geisel library is a spectacular brutalist creation in the middle of San Diego. In the tower, floors 4 through 8 house much of the Library’s collection and study space, while floors 1 and 2 house service desks and staff work areas. Some of the austerity of the original building has been lessened by the addition of the coved ceilings, painted walls, and carpeting throughout levels 1 and 2. The new color scheme complements the color scheme in the addition.

The Library addition, designed by Gunnar Birkerts, was deliberately designed to be subordinated to the strong, geometrical form of the existing library. The Library, designed in the late 1960’s by William Pereira (original report), is an eight story, concrete structure sited at the head of a canyon near the center of the campus. The lower two stories form a pedestal for the six story, stepped tower that has become a visual symbol for Geisel Library. Whatever its metaphorical connotation, its image is preserved and enhanced by the concept for the addition. Construction is reinforced concrete and glass. Overall finish is rough form board exposed concrete in a horizontal pattern with anodized aluminum window walls containing 38,000 square feet of plate glass. The building contains 17,000 cubic yards of concrete. To bear the weight and stress of the cantilevered building, four massive cast-in-place bents or slope beam columns are anchored in footings containing 1,500 cubic yards of concrete on each of the four sides of the building. Throughout history, chiming bells from high towers have provided the function of telling the time and announcing civic gatherings. UC San Diego’s carillon, which sits atop Geisel Library, first rang out on September 20, 1989. The instrument was a gift from educational patron Joe Rubinger, who saw our young campus’ need for the warmth and function of a carillon. Joe named the carillon the Irene Rubinger/Institute for Continued Learning Memorial Carillon, after his late wife Irene with whom he founded The ICL.


7. UNAM Central Library, Mexico City, Mexico

Libraries are, for the most part,  known for the wonders they hold inside, but the Central Library on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) wears its most incredible feature on its facade. Covering every inch of the 10-floor building’s exterior is a colorful stone mural illustrating events from Mexico’s past, present, and imagined future. Also, it kind of looks like a giant prehistoric boombox.

Originally opened in 1956, the library building is most evidently the work of artist Juan O’Gorman. Though the building’s architecture is blocky, windowless, and monolithic, the artist created colorful designs that cover the entire surface of all four sides. The designs were inspired by a quartet of historical epochs, with the north wall representing the pre-Hispanic period; the south wall, the colonial period; the east wall, the modern era; and the west wall, the university’s history.

The colorful decorations turn what could have been an imposing institutional block into a vibrant attraction that’s both a piece of history and a piece of art. And again, thanks to a little block jutting up from the roof like a handle, combined with the circular depictions of the Ptolemaic and Copernican visions of the universe,  it really looks like a massive boombox built by an ancient civilization.

And the decorations get even more incredible up close, as they aren’t simply painted onto the walls, but composed of designs illustrated with a variety of types of local stone, each chosen for its natural color. Amazingly, all of the reds, greens, blues, yellows, and other colors are created with naturally colored stones obtained from all over Mexico. O’Gorman chose this method because as opposed to paint and other mediums because he knew the stones wouldn’t fade away. The UNAM Central Library is an incredible building that manages to encapsulate the country’s rich history with a kind of symbolic visual poetry, writ large.


8. Rijksmuseum Research Library, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

When we think “Research Library”, we are often met with thoughts of boring, stark architecture and dull, grey walls as far as the eye can see. But the Rijksmuseum’s Research Library is a creation all of its own. This is a place one could only dream up, let alone have the opportunity to spend your days studying here. It looks like a slightly more gothic version of Belle’s library from Beauty and the Beast; fairytales really do come true. The Rijksmuseum Research Library is the largest public art history research library in the Netherlands. The library is part of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The profile of the library collection parallels that of the museum. The online catalogue contains over 400,000 monographs, 3,400 periodicals and 90,000 art sales catalogues. About 50,000 art sales catalogues published before 1989 are not yet entered in the online catalogue. The collection grows, on average, by 10,000 books, auction catalogues, and periodicals every year.

The library was built along with the rest of the museum in 1885 by Pierre Cuypers in Renaissance and Gothic architectural styles. The decorative embellishments can still be seen today in the wrought iron railings and swirling staircase. The Rijksmuseum museum and library just finished undergoing extensive renovations, and as a result, has created a special reading room for visitors. Creative Adventurers are encouraged to come into the reading room to read items from the library since they are unable to borrow them. The reading room also has a comprehensive collection of historical reference books. A staff member is on hand inside to answer any questions you might have about the collections or the library itself. This is such a great resource so don’t miss out on this opportunity if you have any sort of interest in art history.


9. The Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Welcome to the Old Library and the Book of Kells – a “must see” on the itinerary of all visitors to Dublin. Located in the heart of Dublin City, a walk through the cobbled stones of Trinity College Dublin will bring visitors back to the 18th century, when the magnificent Old Library building was constructed. Inside is housed the Book of Kells – a 9th-century gospel manuscript famous throughout the world. Visitors are welcomed by our friendly staff seven days a week. Visitors enter through the Library Shop and proceed to the Book of Kells “Turning Darkness into Light” exhibition; then to the Treasury where a volume of the Book of Kells and other related manuscripts are on view; then proceed upstairs to the magnificent Long Room which houses 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books in its oak bookcases. Exhibitions are held in the Long Room to display the rich holdings of the Library and encourage further research.

It is the only Irish library to hold such rights for works published in the United Kingdom. The Library is the permanent home to the Brian Boru harp which is a national symbol of Ireland, a copy of 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, and the Book of Kells. One of the four volumes of the Book of Kells is on public display at any given time.  The volumes and pages shown are regularly changed; a new display case installed in 2020 will allow all pages to be displayed including many not seen in public for several decades.


10. University of Aberdeen New Library, Scotland, United Kingdom

The building, won in an architectural competition in 2005 by schmidt hammer lassen architects, is replacing the University’s former library from 1965 – the Queen Mother Library.The 15,500 m² new library, which provides a 21st century learning and research environment for students, university staff, visitors and the public, is a positive example of how architecture can make a difference. Since the building was put into service in September 2011, the statistics have shown a significant increase in the use of the library, and more than 700,000 visitors have entered the building this first year of operation.“The University of Aberdeen New Library functions as a meeting place and a cultural centre for the students of the University as well as the Aberdeen community. The façade of the building shimmers during the day and glows softly at night, creating a luminous landmark – a beacon – for the city of Aberdeen,” said Morten Schmidt, Founding Partner of schmidt hammer lassen architects, and he continued: “The increase in visitors shows that the new library has affected the students’ everyday behaviour. The students come to study in the new library and to be a part of the social community of the University.”The requirements in the competition brief were to create a magnificent academic library for science and research, which would at the same time be a meeting place engaging the local community.

Chris Banks, University Librarian & Director, Library, Special Collections & Museums, University of Aberdeen, said: “The building is a bold and affirmative statement from the University. It says ‘We mean business’ and it also says ‘you are welcome here’. I love the way in which academics demonstrate their pride in the building: by bringing colleagues from other universities into it and also by bringing along members of their own families. I’m also delighted that the building has attracted so many more students to use the library and the way in which it provides for both social and formal meeting spaces. It has, for the first time, allowed us to truly showcase our very significant special collections.”The University of Aberdeen was established in 1495, and the University library holds one of the world’s greatest collections of books, some of which date back to the thirteenth century. The architecture of the new building creates an advanced learning environment in which the latest technology adds value to a magnificent collection of over one million books.

Architecturally, the heart of the library is a spiralling atrium connecting all eight storeys, and as a dynamic vortex, this space contrasts the clean cut exterior profile. Furthermore, the building is designed to meet the highest sustainable standards, minimising long term running costs and energy use. The library has been certified BREEAM Excellent. Consisting of an irregular pattern of insulated panels and high performance glazing, the façade not only allows plenty of daylight to penetrate into the building but also offers a great view over the city of Aberdeen.


11. Strahov Library in Prague, Czech Republic

Established in 1679, the Strahov Monastery Library is regarded as one of the best-preserved historical libraries with its thousands of books dating all the way back to the 16th century. Otherworldly frescoes by Siard Nosecký and Anton Maulbertsch decorate the ceilings as gilded and carved book shelves house the library’s tomes. The Philosophers’ Hall features a rarity cabinet filled with different animals, minerals, and mock fruits. The library of the Premonstratensian monastery at Strahov is one of the most valuable and best-preserved historical libraries – its collection consists of approximately 200,000 volumes. The oldest part of the library, the Baroque Theological Hall, was established between 1671 and 1674; the main Classicist vaults of the Philosophical Hall date from 1794 and are two storeys tall. Both halls are dominated by ceiling frescoes by Siard Nosecký and Anton Maulbertsch.

Baroque Theological Hall – established in the years 1671 – 1679 according to a project of architect Giovanni Dominik Orsi, who also made the ceiling’s stucco decorations. There are about 18 000 books in the Baroque libraries focused on theology, there are also wooden carved cartouches with pictures and inscriptions above the racks indicating the type of literature in the respective department. This is the first librarian gadget. Ceiling frescoes by Siard Nosecký, which date back to the 18th century, depict the people’s attitudes towards books; Latin inscriptions are quotations from the Bible. There is an interesting exhibit in the Theological Hall, and it is the so called compilation wheel, which is a desk to be used in compiling texts. There were books placed on the wheel’s racks, and a special mechanism prevented the books from falling down, and kept them in place. Creating a new library with a Classicist Philosophers’ Hall in the era of abbot Václav Mayer represented a grand crowning of the Strahov area building development. By creating a library which he made accessible for public, the abbot prevented the abolition of the monastery in the Joseph’s era. Moreover, the abbot was close to Joseph II, and he had the front gable of the Strahov library decorated with a medallion of Joseph II – an enlightened ruler who appreciates the value of the library. The library was created by transforming the former granary, under the command of Ignác Palliardi. Soon afterwards, the library was rebuilt and adjusted to suit the library interior from the abolished Premonstrate temple in Louka near Znojmo, whose books the Strahov abbot managed to acquire. The walnut wood library was built in Prague in the years 1794 – 1797 by the original author Jan Lahofer of Tasovice. The highest lines of books are only accessible from a gallery, to which there are spiral staircases in the library corners, hidden by fake spines of books.


12. Seattle Central Library in Seattle, Washington

The Seattle Central Library is the flagship library of the Seattle Public Library system. The 11-story (185 feet or 56.9 meters high) glass and steel building in downtown Seattle, Washington was opened to the public on May 23, 2004. Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus of OMA/LMN were the principal architects, and Magnusson Klemencic Associates was the structural engineer with Arup. Arup also provided mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering, as well as fire/life safety, security, IT and communications, and audio visual consulting. Hoffman Construction Company of Portland, Oregon, was the general contractor. Architecture firm OMA’s mission for the redesign of Seattle’s central library was to create an informational hub for all forms of media. The 11-story glass and steel structure houses over one million books and hundreds of computers along with a Mixing Chamber where librarians can interact with patrons and provide guidance for whatever they may need. Possibly the most innovative feature of the library is the Book Spiral, a winding bookshelf at the center of the building connected by ramps.

The 362,987 square feet (33,722.6 m2) public library has the capacity to hold about one and a half million books and other materials. It offers underground public parking for 143 vehicles and over 400 computers accessible to the public. Over two million people visited the library during its first year. It is the third Seattle Central Library building to be located on the same site at 1000 Fourth Avenue, the block bounded by Fourth and Fifth Avenues and Madison and Spring Streets. The library has a unique, striking appearance, consisting of several discrete “floating platforms” seemingly wrapped in a large steel net around glass skin. Architectural tours of the building began in June 2004.

In 2007, the building was voted #108 on the American Institute of Architects’ list of Americans’ 150 favorite structures in the U.S. It was one of two places in Seattle to be included on the list of 150 structures, the other being T-Mobile Park.There has been a library located in downtown Seattle as far back as 1891; however, the library did not have its own dedicated facilities and it was frequently on the move from building to building. A second library, at five stories and 206,000 square feet (19,100 m2), was built at the site of the old Carnegie library and opened on March 26, 1960. To make way for the current Seattle Central Library, which is the third library building to inhabit the city block between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, the second library was demolished in November 2001; a temporary library had opened on July 7 in rented spaced at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. Funding for the new Seattle Central Library building, as well as other construction projects throughout the library system, was provided by a $196.4 million bond measure, called “Libraries for All”. 


13. Biblioteca do Convento de Marfa in Marfa, Portugal

The Rococo splendor apart of the Palace of Mafra was built in 1771 by royal court architect Manuel Caetano de Sousa to be used as a museum. Natural light floods through the numerous windows lining the hall, causing the rose, gray, and white marble floor to sparkle throughout the day. In 1745, the Pope granted the royal commission permission to house “forbidden books,” which remain a part of the 35,000 leather-bound collection.

The Palace of Mafra, also known as the Palace-Convent of Mafra and the Royal Building of Mafra (Real Edifício de Mafra), is a monumental Baroque and Neoclassical palace-monastery located in Mafra, Portugal. Construction began in 1717 under King John V of Portugal and was completely concluded in 1755. The palace was classified as a National Monument in 1910 and was also a finalist in the Seven Wonders of Portugal. On 7 July 2019, the Royal Building of Mafra – Palace, Basilica, Convent, Cerco Garden and Hunting Park (Tapada) was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Initially it was a relatively small project for a friary of 13 Capuchin friars, who were to observe strict poverty. However, when the flow of gold and diamonds from the Portuguese colony of Brazil started to arrive in Lisbon in abundance, the king changed his plans and announced the construction of a sumptuous palace along with a much enlarged friary. This immense wealth allowed the king to be a generous patron of the arts. He appointed an architect João Frederico Ludovice as director of the royal works at Mafra. Ludwig had studied architecture in Rome and knew contemporary Italian art. The extent of Ludwig’s responsibility is unclear, as several other architects were involved in this project: the Milanese builder Carlos Baptista Garbo, Custódio Vieira, Manuel da Maia and even his own son António. However the application of the same architectural style over the whole building suggests the work of Ludwig as the head-architect in charge of the Royal Office of Works. The imposing façade, built of local limestone, is 220 m long and faces the town of Mafra. At each end of the façade stands a square tower with a bulbous dome, such as found in Central Europe. The church, built in white marble, is located in the centre of the main façade, symmetrically flanked on both sides by the royal palace. The king, wishing to rival the splendour of Rome, had sought architectural advice from his ambassador to the Vatican, who sent him small-scale models of important Roman religious buildings. The benedictal balcony at its centre is clearly mirrored on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But this balcony is rather intended for the king, as a symbol of his power, than for the benedictions by a prelate. The Rococo library, situated at the back of the second floor, is truly the highlight of this palace, rivalling the grandeur of the library of the Melk Abbey in Austria.


14. Abbey Library of St. Gall in St. Gallen, Switzerland

The Abbey Library of Saint Gall  is a significant medieval monastic library located in St. Gallen, Switzerland. In 1983, the library, as well as the Abbey of St. Gall, were designated a World Heritage Site, as “an outstanding example of a large Carolingian monastery and was, since the 8th century until its secularisation in 1805, one of the most important cultural centres in Europe” Early architectural plans that depict a library attached to the main church of the Abbey of Saint Gall suggest the collection dates back to around 820 CE. As the abbey’s catalogue of science writings and manuscripts grew, the collection moved to its lavishly decorated Baroque-style hall by Peter Thumb in the mid-18th century. Nearly 160,00 volumes make up the intricately carved-wood shelves, all of which are available for public use.

The library was founded by Saint Othmar, founder of the Abbey of St. Gall. During a fire in 937, the Abbey was destroyed, but the library remained intact. The library hall, designed by the architect Peter Thumb in a Rococo style, was constructed between 1758 and 1767.  A Greek inscription above the entrance door, ΨΥΧΗΣ ΙΑΤΡΕΙΟΝ (psukhēs iatreion), translates as “apothecary of the soul”.


15. Klementinum National Library in Prague, Czech Republic

The Clementinum is a historic complex of buildings in Prague. Until recently the complex hosted the National, University and Technical libraries; the City Library was also nearby on Mariánské Náměstí. In 2009, the Technical library and the Municipal library moved to the Prague National Technical Library at Technická 6. It is in use as the National Library of the Czech Republic. In 2005, the Czech National Library received the UNESCO Jikji prize (Memory of the World).

With its ornate ceiling frescoes by Jan Hiebl and rich gold-and-mahogany spiral pillars, it’s no wonder why the Klementinum is touted as “the Baroque pearl of Prague.” The library first opened in 1722 as a part of a Jesuit university but now serves as the National Library of the Czech Republic, housing over 20,00 volumes of foreign theological literature. A portrait of Emperor Joseph II sits at the head of the hall to commemorate his work in preserving books from abolished monastic libraries, many of which remain in the hall today.

The National Library was founded in 1781 and from 1782 the Clementinum was a legal deposit library. In 1918 the newly established Czecho-Slovak state took over the library. Since 1990, it has been the National Library. It contains a collection of Mozartiana, material pertaining to Tycho Brahe and Comenius, as well as historic examples of Czech literature. The architecture is a notable example of Baroque architecture and Clementinum, covering 20,000 square metres, is the second largest complex of buildings in Prague after the Prague Castle. For several years before 2006, there was an ongoing debate on the possibilities of expanding the space for future library collections, as space in the current Clementinum buildings was expected to reach its limit by 2010. On 10 Jan 2006, the Prague authorities decided to sell the city-owned property located in the area of Letná near the Prague center, to the National Library. In Spring 2006, an international architectural design competition for the new building was put up. The architect who won the competition was Jan Kaplický, but the decision was overruled, so the Czech National Library is still waiting for its final project.


16. Stuttgart City Library in Stuttgart, Germany

The gleaming white surfaces and crisp lines create a dreamy and relaxed atmosphere within the Stuttgart City Library. Taking design cues from the Pantheon in Rome, German-based Yi Architects took a minimalist approach toward designing the nine-story library with an open multi-floor reading room shaped like an upside-down pyramid. The only color within the cube building comes from the thousands of books that line the shelves. The site for the Stuttgart City Library was chosen in Mailänder Platz, an area that is perceived to be a future city centre growing out of the location of the library. With this in mind, the architects chose to physically express the importance of this cultural centre by giving the building a grand physical presence. The building takes the form of cube with an edge length of 45 meters.

The gallery hall is a five-story space, square-shaped and surrounded by a shell of books. The interior circulation is arranged in a spiral among the reading gallery areas, designed to be flowing promenades flooded with light from the glass roof. The forum, a third central room, is located below the heart. This is an event room which is in proximity to the light-railway line that crosses the first and second basement floors.


17. Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

This Neo-Maueline stunner holds the biggest and most valuable collection of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal with nearly 400,000 rare manuscripts, singular works, and unique proofs decorating the shelves. A trio of Portuguese immigrants originally founded the cabinet in 1822 to bring literary traditions and masterpieces to the newly independent Brazil. In 1887, the doors of the Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading opened to the public revealing three-stories of works to be discovered and the radiant Altar of the Homeland by goldsmith António Maria Ribeiro. The institution was founded in 1837 by a group of forty-three Portuguese immigrants, political refugees, to promote culture among the Portuguese community in the then capital of the Empire of Brazil. It was the first association of this community in the city.

The building of the current headquarters, designed by the Portuguese architect Rafael da Silva e Castro, was erected between 1880 and 1887 in Neo-Manueline style. This architectural style evokes the exuberant Gothic-Renaissance style in force at the time of the Portuguese discoveries, named Manueline in Portugal for having coincided with the reign of King Manuel (1495–1521). The Emperor Pedro II (1831–1889) laid the cornerstone of the building on 10 June 1880, and his daughter, Isabel, Princess Imperial of Brazil, together with her husband, the Prince Gaston, Count of Eu, inaugurated it on 10 September 1887.

The façade, inspired by the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, was worked by Germano José Salle in lisbon stone in Lisbon and brought by ship to Rio. The four statues that adorn it portray respectively Pedro Álvares Cabral, Luís de Camões, Infante D. Henrique and Vasco da Gama. The medallions of the facade portray, respectively, the writers Fernão Lopes, Gil Vicente, Alexandre Herculano and Almeida Garrett. The interior also follows the Neo-Manueliene style on the covers, wooden bookcases for books and memorials. The ceiling of the Reading Room has a beautiful chandelier and a skylight in iron structure, the first example of this type of architecture in Brazil. The hall also has a beautiful monument of silver, ivory and marble (the Altar of the Homeland), of 1.7 meters of height, that celebrates the time of the discoveries, realized in the Casa Reis & Filhos in Porto by the goldsmith António Maria Ribeiro, and acquired in 1923 by the Royal Cabinet. The colours and detailed intricacy of the patterns in this space make it truly breathtaking. 


18. Beitou Public Library in Taipei, Taiwan

Reading just got a lot greener with the ecological design of the Beitou Public Library. The slanted roof of the two-story wooden facility captures rain water which is stored to use within the structure’s lavatory; the large French-style ushers in natural light, reducing electricity consumption. Complete with balconies overlooking native flora, the Beitou Public Library feels as though you’ve stepped into a literary treehouse.  It was designed by Bio-Architecture Formosana. The building uses large windows to reduce the consumption of lighting electricity. The roof was designed to be partially covered with photovoltaic cells to generate electricity and also designed to capture rain water to be stored and used to flush toilets. While much less grand and ornate than many of the other libraries on this list, the simplicity, innovation, and workmanship that make up this building are truly stunning. Built mainly of wood and steel, it resembles a large treehouse just waiting to welcome visitors. 


19. Tama Art University Library in Tokyo, Japan

Minimalist yet breathtaking, the concrete arches of the Tama Art University Library in Tokyo echo ancient vaulted spaces such as wine cellars and storied libraries. Architect Toyo Ito completed the sleek structure in 2007 with the intent that the curved details seamlessly flow with the slopping outside landscapes. The first floor features an open gallery space for various art exhibitions with nearly 100,000 books making up the second-floor stacks. Passing through the main entrance gate, the site lies behind a front garden with small and large trees, and stretches up a gentle slope.

The existing cafeteria was the sole place in the university shared by both students and staff members across all disciplines, so the first impetus for the. “To let the flows and views of these people freely penetrate the building, we began to think of a structure of randomly placed arches which would create the sensation as if the sloping floor and the front garden’s scenery were continuing within the building. design was to question how an institution as specialised as a library could provide an open commonality for all.” says the architect. The characteristic arches are made out of steel plates covered with concrete. The arches are arranged along curved lines which cross at several points. Climbing the stairs to the second floor, one finds large art books on low bookshelves crossing under the arches. Between these shelves are study desks of various sizes. A large table with a state-of-art copy machine allows users to do professional editing work. The open, light and airy feel of this library is a break from the tradition of library construction that is heavy, ornate, and has a dense and warm feeling. 


20. Rampur Raza Library in Rampur, India

Housed in the former mansion of Nawab Hamid Ali Khan, Rampur Raza Library boasts a notable collection of Indo-Islamic works from manuscripts, Islamic calligraphy, and the original manuscript of the first translation of the Quran. Beyond Islamic scriptures, the space also houses 17,000 manuscripts in various languages ranging from Arabic to Turkish and 60,000 printed books. Nawab Muhammad Yusuf Ali Khan ‘Nazim’ a was literary person and a famous poet of Urdu and a disciple of celebrated poet Mirza Ghalib. He created a separate department of the library and shifted the collection to the newly constructed rooms of Kothi Genralie. The Nawab also invited well known calligraphers, illuminators and binders from Kashmir and other parts of India. The later Nawabs continued to enrich the collection.


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