Feature: Top 10 Must-See Libraries Across the World!

By Michele Mathews

Across the United States, National Library Week is celebrated the second week in April. Originally, this week was only observed in the U.S., but the idea has spread across the world. This week is a time to promote and support libraries.

As a librarian at an intermediate school, libraries have a special place in my heart. They are where we find books to read, but they are also where we find history. In my own town, our local public library might not have existed if it wasn’t for Andrew Carnegie’s donation, so even in the construction of a library, there is history.

When I look beyond my hometown, I remember visiting the Lilly Library on the Indiana University campus as a student. This historical library contains such things as George Washington’s letter accepting his presidency, transcripts of Ian Flemin’s James Bond novels, and locks of Edgar Allen Poe’s hair. 

At that time, though, I didn’t think about libraries around the world, but I must say there are some interesting ones if you ever have the chance to visit one of the countries where one of these libraries is located.

1. Strahov Monastery Library (Czech Republic)

Back in 1679, the Strahov Monastery Library was established and has preserved thousands of books that date back to the 16th century. Originally, the library was part of the Strahov Monastery, which was  founded in 1149. Inside as you explore, you will find gilded ceilings and carved bookshelves. Finished in 1779, Philosophers’ Hall houses a cabinet filled with rare items, like different animals, mock fruits, and minerals. 

2. Stuttgart City Library (Germany)

The Stuttgart City Library was designed by German-based Yi Architects, basing their design on the Patheon in Rome and taking a minimalist view. The only color you will see in this library is the spines of the books sitting on their shelves. All the walls of this nine-story building are white, and at night, the blue lights give it a unique look. Besides the library, you will find meeting rooms, cafes, and a rooftop space where readers can read all night if they want. The library has a designated area for readers to enjoy after hours as well as a collection of books available.

3. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (United States)

Located on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library preserves rare books and documents as its name reflects and makes it one of the best libraries in the world. The library uses soft lighting and glass shelves in its preservation of the books. You’ll find works from authors like Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, and Sinclair Lewis. The building itself is designed to preserve these older writings from the past. Inside, you can view one of forty-eight copies of the Gutenberg Bible.

4. Trinity College Library (Ireland) 

Nicknamed Ireland’s “copyright library,” the Trinity College Library houses over six million books. While the library is four separate buildings, the interior of the Old Library has a 213-foot-long wooden chamber that has a barrel-looking ceiling, perfect for housing some of the older books, like The Book of Durrow and The Book of Kells.

5. New York Public Library (United States)

The New York Public Library is located in one of the largest cities in the United States—New York City—and is the third largest in the world. It houses almost fifty-three million items. The Rose Main Reading Room is so massive that it has forty-two long wooden tables for visitors to use. Outside the library, two stone lion sculptures stand, completed in 1911. If you would like to do a free one-hour tour of the library, make sure you visit before 11 a.m. any day but Sunday. The library has been featured in such movies as Ghostbusters and The Day After Tomorrow.and the act of creation by a master of the short-story form.

6. Bibliotheque Alexandria (Egypt) 

In 2002, the Bibliotheque Alexandria reopened after the original one, the Library of Alexandria, was destroyed by a fire nearly 2000 years ago. The original building was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Today, the new library is shaped like a disc, and the reading rooms face the Mediterranean Sea. It houses a planetarium, academic centers, and four museums, and you can learn about Egypt’s history through multimedia presentations.

7. Bodleian Library (England)

Located on the campus of Oxford University, the Bodleian Library was established in 1602 and is one of Europe’s oldest libraries. It has 13 million printed items, and among those, you will find Shakespeare’s First Folio from 1623 and four copies of the Magna Carta. The building is probably one you will recognize, not only because it’s circular, but because it’s popular in the movies. If you’ve seen Young Sherlock Holmes or the Harry Potter movies, you’ve probably seen this library. 

8. George Peabody Library (United States)

Dating back to 1857, the George Peabody Library was founded by George Peabody as part of the Peabody Institute. Today, it is part of Johns Hopkins University and contains almost 300,000 books from science to religion to British art. The atrium stands 61 feet tall and has cast-iron balconies and gold scalloped columns, creating a unique space for studying and teaching.

9. Beitou Branch of the Taipai Public Library (Taiwan)

As the most modern library on the list, the Beitou branch of the Taipai Public Library helps not only visitors but the environment. It is an eco-friendly library that runs water reclamation and has natural ventilation and solar panels. Its roof slants to allow the two-story building to collect and use rainwater. The library houses 20,000 books in Chinese and English. When visiting, you’ll feel as though you’re in a treehouse.

10. Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading (Brazil)

In 1822, three Portuguese immigrants originally founded the library and planned to bring literary masterpieces and traditions to the newly independent Brazil. However, the three-story library didn’t open to the public until 1887. It contains the most valuable and biggest collection of Portuguese literature, the only one outside of Portugal where you’ll find nearly 400,000 singular works and rare manuscripts. enjoy after hours as well as a collection of books available.

1. Library of Congress (United States)

Completed in 1897 and situated in Washington, D.C., this library is the largest in the world. As the national library, it houses the largest number of books—more than 61 million manuscripts, 32 million books, 14 million prints and photos, six million pieces of sheet music, and a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. It also has the most shelf space of any library in its three buildings.

2. Rampur Raza Library (India)

This library is located in the former mansion of Nawab Hamid Ali Khan, who ruled in India from 1889 to 1930. It has a collection of Indo-Islamic works from Islamic calligraphy and manuscripts, including the original first translation of the Quran. It also houses 60,000 books and 17,000 other manuscripts in various languages, such as Turkish and Arabic. 

In my research for the top ten must see libraries around the world, I discovered other libraries that were just as beautiful or held historical items. Before you begin your travels, make sure you check for a unique library. You’ll never know what history you might discover on your journey.  

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Article originally Published in the March / April / May 2024 Issue: Indie in Bloom.

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