10 Libraries That Offer Much More Than Books

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Bucket List Worthy  

salt-lake-city-library
Salt Lake City Public Library | Photo credit: Matt Gibson

By Sammey La Porta

It’s a book worms dream…

Thousands of books line the walls, quiet whispers from fellow library goers, and the musty smell of old books.

The library — where old knowledge and stories are transfered to new and studious minds. And, while the books are important, the following are the 10 best libraries that prove that the space can be just as glorious and beautiful.

Whether you’re a book enthusiast or simply appreciate a good library, here are 10 must-see libraries around the world…

Kansas City Public Library

Kansas City Public Library
Photo credit: Caleb Zahnd

Located in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, the Kansas City Public Library features a 25-foot long community bookshelf with 22 towering book spines decorating the building’s exterior. The books to be included were suggested by the residents of the city and chosen by the library’s board of trustees. They include titles such as Catch 22, A Tale of Two Cities and Lord of the Rings, but it doesn’t stop there.  Inside are giant book pages, a showroom inside a bank vault, and a giant chessboard.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Bibliotheca Alexandrina
Photo credit: GAT Tours

Also known as The New library of Alexandria, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a modern library and cultural center located near the Mediterranean Sea in Alexandria, Egypt.

The massive building houses eight million books and features hieroglyphics from 120 different human scripts. The library itself serves as a tribute to the lost library of Alexandria, built by Alexander the Great around 2,300 years ago.

Austrian National Library

Image by Rainer
Photo Credit: Rainer

Situated in the Hoffberg Palace in Vienna, the Austrian National library was built in the 18th century and is Austria’s largest library with over seven million articles. During WWII, the library was the home to more than 25,000 books confiscated from Jewish Austrians, which are still being returned today.

Bodleian Library

Image by Mark LaFlaur
Photo credit: Mark LaFlaur

While the Bodleian Library in Oxford, London might not be the most famous library on this list, it’s arguably the most beautiful. It’s one of the oldest libraries in Europe and is the main research library at Oxford. The library features chestnut bookshelves, wooden floors, and small reading nooks.

All new readers must say this declaration out loud before they are granted access: “I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.”

El Escorial Library

Image by -Merce-
Photo credit: -Merce-

Situated in El Escorial (near Madrid, Spain) the El Escorial Library — also known as the royal seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial — is in the historic residence of the King of Spain. The library is stunning with painted ceilings, marble floors, and antique carved bookshelves. The entire collection, including more than 40,000 works, occupies one long hall. More than 500,000 people visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site each year.

Library of Parliament

Image by Troy
Photo Credit: Troy

Constructed in 1876 and located in Ottawa, Ontario, the Library of Parliament is the main research resource for the Parliament of Canada. The reading room has a circular floor plan, multiple levels of books, white marble statues, and busts of important figures such as royal family members. The building itself is featured on the Canadian ten-dollar bill. Unfortunately, access to this library is restricted to people on parliamentary business only.

Vatican Library

Photo credit: Michal Osmenda
Photo credit: Michal Osmenda

The Vatican Library, also known as the Library of the Holy See or the Vatican Apostolic Library, is situated in the Vatican City in Rome. Its proximity to famous landmarks such as the Coliseum and Sistine Chapel mean it’s often overlooked by tourists. Yet, this library is the oldest in the world, dating to earlier than the 1400’s, and houses one of the largest collections of religious texts in the world. The inside of the library is just as ornate and gorgeous as the rest of the Vatican, with frescos, marble floors, and wooden book shelves. Sadly, admittance is rarely granted to the general public, leading to many local folktales about the secret contents of the library.

Library of Congress

Image by USCapitol
Photo credit: USCapitol

One of the most famous libraries in the United States, the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.  houses the largest collection of rare books in North America with 32 million books, articles in more than 470 languages, and a rough draft of The Declaration of Independence.

Rijksmuseum Research Library

Image by Roland
Photo credit: Roland

The Rijksmuseum Library is the largest art history library in the Netherlands and is located in Amsterdam. Open to the public, the recently remodeled reading room features multiple levels of bookcases with wrought iron balconies and winding staircases. The ground floor features tables and thick, plush chairs for guests.

Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana

Photo credit: solskinn
Photo credit: solskinn

The National Library of St. Mark’s (the patron saint of Venice, Italy) is a library and Renaissance building. Built in the 1500’s, this was the first public library open to scholars in Venice. Today, it mainly houses illuminated manuscripts. The library itself is full of tiny hallways and galleries with marble flooring, ornate ceilings, and paintings.

These libraries are as spectacular, unique, and as engaging as the books they house.  So don’t forget to add a library to your next travel itinerary.

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