25 of the World’s Coolest Libraries
Wandering Educators love libraries. I mean, LOVE. Wherever we go, we find the local library, explore within, talk with librarians, and discover cool books. So in that sense, ALL libraries are cool (especially your local library). But what about the extraordinarily cool libraries – the ones where the buildings almost outshine the contents?
Take a look at some of the world’s coolest libraries (in no particular order)…
Wikimedia Commons: Paolo Emilio, adapted by Wandering Educators
The British Library
The national library of the UK, the British Library is also a major research library. The collection is global (many languages and formats). The largest library in the world, it is also a legal deposit library (which means that they receive copies of ALL books printed in the UK and Ireland!). It was originally part of the British Museum, and moved from there to the building in St Pancras, London. The Online Gallery offers access to over 30,000 images from medieval books (including Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, and illuminated manuscripts).
• 150,000,000 total items catalogued
British Library, London. Wikimedia Commons: Patche99z
Shadow Gate, British Library. Wikimedia Commons: CGP Grey
Foyer, British Library. Wikimedia Commons: Rich Tea
Library of Congress
A research library located in Washington, DC, the Library of Congress serves the US Congress. It is the second largest library in the world. It spreads across four buildings in Washington, DC, and the Packard Campus in Virginia. Open to the public, although only government officials can actually check out books.
• 22,765,967 catalogues books; 151,785,778 total catalogued items
Library of Congress. Wikimedia Commons: Diliff
Main Reading Room, Library of Congress. Wikimedia Commons: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Library of Alexandria
Located in Alexandria, Egypt, this library is a tribute to the original Library of Alexandria (lost in antiquity). The library has books in Arabic, English, and French. It is the largest repository of French books in the Arab world, and has an Espresso Book Machine, which offers print on demand books. There is also an internet archive.
Outer view, Library of Alexandria. Wikimedia Commons: Mahmoud Saaid
Bookshelves, looking like lotus flower stems, Library of Alexandria. Wikimedia Commons: Avjoska
Trinity College Library
Located in Dublin, Ireland, Trinity College Library is one of the most recognizable libraries in the world. Trinity College Dublin was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth, and is the oldest university in Ireland. The library is the largest in Ireland, and is also a deposit library. Two aspects of the library are most recognizable to readers – the Long Room (71 yards long!), and the Book of Kells (which you can see online, here).
• 6,000,000 catalogued items
Trinity College Library. Wikimedia Commons: Trinity College Library
Long Room, Trinity College Library.
Seattle Central Public Library
Opened in 2004, this library, Seattle Public Library's main branch, is an explosion of glass (architects Koolhaas and Prince-Ramus). My favorite part is the floors – emblazoned with literary quotes in a variety of languages. The flooring was created by Ann Hamilton, and contains the first sentences from books – in 11 languages! It’s an homage to the mystery of reading and learning.
• Central Library: 930,000 catalogued books; Seattle PL, 2,446,355 catalogued items
Multilingual Floors, Seattle Public Library. Photo: mine
Seattle Public Library. Photo: mine
Law Library, University of Zurich
Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, this law library is astounding. Take a look, from a whispering patron:
You sure wouldn’t expect that amazing inside, from this classical façade:
Law Library, University of Zurich. Flickr cc: Forgemind ArchiMedia
Law Library, University of Zurich. Wikimedia Commons: Wouter Homs
Vancouver Public Library
The second largest public library in Canada, the Vancouver Public Library is known for its central building in Library Square, downtown Vancouver. Here, you can find a library, as well as reading and study areas and a glass-roofed concourse. There’s also an outdoor piazza, but the main building is so interesting, as it was based on the Colosseum.
• 1,300,000 items catalogued at the Central library branch
Vancouver Public Library. Wikimedia Commons: Rodefeld
Atrium, Vancouver Public Library. Wikimedia Commons: Andrew Raun
Geisel Library, University of California, San Diego
A Seussian library, fit for the collection of Dr. Seuss! This collection contains original art from Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), as well as a vast university library collection. Which we love, of course!
• More than 7 million digital and print items
Geisel Library. Wikimedia Commons: Ben Lunsford
Read/Write/Think/Dream – entrance to the Geisel Library, an art installation by John Baldessari. Wikimedia Commons: Travis Rigel Lukas Hornung
Stuttgart Central Library
A new library for Stuttgart, Germany! This library, called Stadtbibliothek am Mailänder Platz, opened in 2011 and looks like an enormous Minecraft library. Swoon. Inside, the stark white colors are juxtaposed with the beautiful books. Lovely!
• 1,000,000+ catalogued items
Stuttgart Central Library. Wikimedia Commons: Musslkprozz
Stuttgart Central Library at night. Wikimedia Commons: Musslkprozz
inside Stuttgart Central Library. Wikimedia Commons: AngMoKio
Salt Lake City Library
Built in 2003, the main branch of the Salt Lake City Public Library is another juxtaposition of glass and brick. Library Square, a large outdoor piazza, is paved with Israeli limestone, and leads with the same paving stone all the way inside through the Urban Room, which extends through five floors! There is also a rooftop garden, spiraling fireplaces, an art gallery, a coffee shop, and an extremely large graphic novel collection (courtesy of local publisher Night Flight Comics).
• 500,000+ items catalogued
Interior, Salt Lake City Public Library. Wikimedia Commons
Exterior, Salt Lake City Public Library. Wikimedia Commons: Daderot
Bishan Community Library
The public library in Bishan, Singapore, was opened in 2006. There are 4 floors and a basement, a coffee shop (café Galilee) on the first floor, and protruding glass windows look like books poking out from bookshelves, waiting to be faced – and are actually reading pods. The library won the International Architecture Award in 2009.
Bishan Community Library, Singapore. Wikimedia Commons: Someformofhuman
Stacks at Bishan Communtiy Library, Singapore. flickr cc: kany
Library Café Galilee, Bishan Community Library, Singapore. flickr cc: kany
Biblioteca Sandro Penna
The Municipal Library Sandro Penna is located in San Sisto, Perugia, Italy. Built in 2004, the library is quite recognizable for its shape, a UFO sort of building, with colored glass that lights up at night. The library was named after famous Perugian poet Sandro Penna. The words from his writings cover the exterior panels of the building. Of particular note is the Born to Read Project, which works to promote reading in schools.
• 20,000 catalogued items (including over 1,000 vinyl records!)
Biblioteca Sandro Penna. Wikimedia Commons
Biblioteca Sandro Penna. Wikimedia Commons: Paolo Emilio
Biblioteca Sandro Penna. Wikimedia Commons: Paolo Emilio
Library of Birmingham
The newest building in this cool libraries list is the 2013 library in Birmingham, England. It replaced the old Central Library. It is the largest public library in the UK, and the largest public cultural space (and largest regional library) in Europe! This library is also eco-friendly, using an aquifer ground source system (renewable energy) to minimize energy use. When the old library was demolished, they saved the Shakespeare Memorial Room (designed in 1882) – and reinstalled it on the top floor of the new library. WHEW! This Shakespeare collection is Britain’s most important Shakespeare collection, with over 43,000 books and many rare items. The building is highly accessible, and features several floors, a library shop, a library café, and even a tourist information centre. Don’t miss the elevated garden terraces on levels 3 & 7.
interior, Library of Birmingham. Wikimedia Commons: jo-marshall
Library of Birmingham. Wikimedia Commons: Andy Mabtbet
Library of Birmingham as seen from Edgbastion Reservior. Wikimedia Commons: Tony Hisgett
Library of Birmingham Shakespeare Room. Wikimedia Commons: Steph Gillett
Folger Shakespeare Library
Located in Washington, DC, this library building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and opened in 1932. But don’t imagine it is stuffy – the library is very active on twitter and social media. The bard’s adaptable! The library is an independent research library, and has the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare, including rare materials.The library has 82 (!) copies of the 1623 First Folio. The library also has the 3rd largest collection of English books printed before 1641. There are many cultural events, plays, and classes here (of course).
• 300,000+ catalogued items (including playbills!)
Folger Shakespeare Library. Wikimedia Commons: AgnosticPreachersKid
Folger Shakespeare Library. Wikimedia Commons: Ingfbruno
The bard is adaptable! Folger Shakespeare library on the trolley. flickr cc: Orangeadnan
The Bodleian Library is the main research library at the University of Oxford. I remember getting a tote bag with some famous books from the Bodleian Library printed on the front, when I was younger. I felt VERY Special, going to our small library! The Bodleian Library is another legal deposit library in the UK. The library is located in 5 buildings in Oxford, UK, near Broad Street, as well as some underground storage areas. The Library dates back to before the 1600s, with a small collection of chained books owned by the Bishop of Worcester. Manuscript collections include the Ashmole Manuscripts, the Carte Manuscrips, Tolkein manuscripts, and letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley. There are also many other important documents, including one of 21 surviving Gutenberg Bibles, the Song of Roland, one of Shakespeare’s First Folios, the longest surviving manuscript written in Middle English, the Vernon Manuscript, and several copies of the Magna Carta.
• 11,000,000+ catalogued items
Radcliffe Camera, one of the buildings of the Bodleian Library. Wikimedia Commons: Roman Kirillov
Window, Divinity School, Bodleian Library. Wikimedia Commons: Remi Mathis
Bodleian Library. Wikimedia Commons: Remi Mathis
Bodleian Library. Wikimedia Commons: Remi Mathis
Bodleian Library interior. See those books? Yep. Wikimedia Commons: Linda Castaneda
Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) Library
Built in 1987, this library, at the Delft University of Technology, is half underground! The roof is covered with grass, and there is a walkway where you can walk to the top of the building. There’s a steel cone built atop the library, a coffee shop, and all walls are glass. The library’s motto is Educate, Innovate, Create. Indeed!
• 1,000,000+ catalogued items, including 88,000 doctoral theses and 37,000 books published before 1900
With Flying Books, by artist Henk Tieman. Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) Library. Wikimedia Commons: Jan van der Heul
Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) Library. Wikimedia Commons: Nol Aders
Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) Library. flickr cc: IK’s World Trip
Spain Library Park (Biblioteca Parque España)
Located in Medellin, Colombia, the Spain Library Park is known for its unique shape! There are three buildings that look like enormous carved stones, located atop a hill. They light up at night. You can ascend the hill via cable car to reach the library area, if you so desire. What a great way to climb! The library is in stark contrast to the local neighborhood, a very poor and violent barrio. The library also serves not just to provide books, but also programs, resources, and services for the community. The small windows were intentionally built to disconnect visitors from their surroundings – just like we do when we dive into a book!
Spain Library Park (Biblioteca Parque España). Wikimedia Commons: Albeiror24
Spain Library Park (Biblioteca Parque España). Wikimedia Commons: Juliopesquero
Interior, Spain Library Park (Biblioteca Parque España). Wikimedia Commons: SajoR
Kanazawa Umimirai Library
Located in Kanazawa, Ishiwaka Prefecture, Japan, this public library is described as a Cake box! I tell you, after living in Japan and loving all the cakes from the bakeries there, that is a high compliment. The building was designed for comfort and for the experience of being surrounded by books. The library has an incredible amount of natural light from (get this) 6,000 small circular windows. The building is simple in design, and complex in meeting the needs of the local community in such an artistic and beautiful way. Want to talk on your cell? Head to one of the glass cellphone booths – shh!
• 400,000+ catalogued items
The Cake Box: Kanazawa Umimirai Library. Wikimedia Commons: Hirorinmasa
Glassed in cell phone booth. Kanazawa Umimirai Library. Wikimedia Commons: Forgemind Archimedia
Kanazawa Umimirai Library Interior. Wikimedia Commons: Forgemind Archimedia
José Vasconcelos Library
Located in Mexico City, Mexico, the José Vasconcelos Library is a MEGA library! It is enormous, spreading over 400,00 square feet. The library opened in 2006, closed in 2007 for structural problems, and reopened in 2008. Maybe this huge library is one of the reasons why Mexico’s literacy rate is 93%! A large sculpture, Gabriel Orozco’s Ballena, takes prominent place in the center of the library, but the bookshelves and interior look like large books that need to be faced! Outside, the modern structure is surrounded by a botanical garden. Within the library, you’ll find a special section callkd the City of Books, which follows the intellectual journey of several key Mexican writers/diplomats through their personal libraries.
• 580,000+ catalogued items
Exterior, José Vasconcelos Library. flickr cc: LWYang
Face those books! José Vasconcelos Library. flickr cc: LWYang
Interior, José Vasconcelos Library. Wikimedia Commons: Gwolf
Interior, José Vasconcelos Library. Wikimedia Commons: Eneas De Troya
Ballena, José Vasconcelos Library. flickr cc: LWYang
Located in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, this library opened in 2001. But it doesn’t CALL itself a library – rather, a Mediatheque. The library is a transparent cube, with floor plates suspended on 13 structural tubes. The concept is that as new media is barrier-free, so should the library be. The bulding is completely handicap accessible, of course! There are 7 floors, which includes a library, art gallery, café, bookstore, and a theatre.
Sendai Mediatheque. Wikimedia Commons: Los688
interior, Sendai Mediatheque.Wikimedia Commons: yisris/Yuichi
Interior, Sendai Mediatheque. flickr cc: yisris
Checkout desk, Sendai Mediatheque. flickr cc: yisris
Exterior, Sendai Mediatheque. flickr cc: Forgemind Archimedia
State Library of Victoria
Located in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, the State Library is the central library for the entire state! Oh, LOVE that. Included in the collection are diaries from the city’s founders, and folios from Captain James Cook. This library is one of the largest exhibiting libraries in the world. The grassy front lawn is enjoyed by many, but you can also see many statues, a speakers’ forum on Sunday afternoons, the famous Domed Reading Room, and even a chess room.
• 2,500,000+ catalogued items
State Library of Victoria. Wikimedia Commons: John O’Neill
La Trobe Reading Room, 5th floor view. State Library of Victoria. Wikimedia Commons: Diliff
Wikimedia Commons: Stawell Gallery. State Library of Victoria. Wikimedia Commons: Donaldytong
Bibliothèque Nationale, France
The National Library of France is located in Paris, and is a legal repository for everything published in France! The newest building of the library opened in 1996. Despite the new building, this research/conservation library has origins that date from the Middle Ages, and was first formalized by Charles V in 1368. Fast forward to today, and Gallica, the online catalog, has over a million documents online. The library has several buildings, ranging from historic to modern.
• 30,000,000+ catalogued items
Salle ovale (oval room) of the National French library, Richelieu building. Wikimedia Commons: Poulpy
Interior, Bibliothèque Nationale, France. flickr cc: LeonL
New York Public Library, Main Building
Probably the most recognizable library in the world, NYPL’s Main Building is located on 5th Avenue, and was opened in 1911. This is the 2nd largest public library in the US. There are several features which are beloved at the NYPL – the two lions guarding the entrance, and the Rose Main Reading Room. The library constructed underground storage in the 1980s – they dug under Bryant Park (across the street), and then replaced the park atop the new underground building.
South Hall, New York Public Library, Main Building. flickr cc: (Vincent Desjardins)
Rose Main Reading Room, New York Public Library, Main Building. flickr cc: (Vincent Desjardins)
Patience and Fortitude, the two lions guarding the NYPL, during a snowstorm in 1948.
Royal Library, Denmark
Denmark’s Royal Library is located in Copenhagen, and has a long history – it was founded in 1648 by King Frederik III! It is a legal repository library for Denmark. There are four sites for the library; the main library is located at the harbor, and is called the Black Diamond Building. This building also has a concert hall, and was opened in 1999.
• 33,000,000+ catalogued items
Black Diamond Royal Library, Denmark. Wikimedia Commons: Thue
Interior looking out, Black Diamond Royal Library, Denmark. flickr cc: Chad_k
Black Diamond Royal Library, Denmark. flickr cc: bjaglin
Black Diamond Royal Library, Denmark. flickr cc: bjaglin
Biblioteca Virgilio Barco, Bogotá, Colombia
One of Bogotá’s city libraries, this branch opened in 2001. The building is a circular structure with 3 floors and many terraces. Here, you can find a restaurant, a garden with water features, and living library and music library, in addition to standard library amenities. The way to get around inside? Ramps! The building and gardens have been described as an island in the city.
• 150,000+ catalogued items
Biblioteca Virgilio Barco, Bogotá, Colombia. Wikimedia Commons: jcbga
Exterior. Biblioteca Virgilio Barco, Bogotá, Colombia. Wikimedia Commons: Mario Carvajal
Exterior. Biblioteca Virgilio Barco, Bogotá, Colombia. Wikimedia Commons: Sfabarafe
Interior, Biblioteca Virgilio Barco, Bogotá, Colombia. flickr cc: TEDxBogotá
All right, Wandering Educators! What are YOUR favorite cool libraries? I am sure we have enough for a part II...