A Bibliophile's Dream: The Most Inspiring Libraries Around the World

Pick up a book today | © German Poo-Caamano/Flickr
Pick up a book today | © German Poo-Caamano/Flickr
Photo of Jenn Parker
15 January 2018

There are hundreds of thousands of libraries around the globe. Some are ancient architectural marvels with ceilings adorned with frescos and entrances guarded by marble statues, while others possess quite different but nonetheless impressive characteristics. Several stand out amongst the rest though for their continual ability to truly inspire us. These are some of those libraries.

University of Al-Qarawiyyin Library, Fez, Morocco

The UniAl-Qarawiyyin Library in Fez, Morocco is the world’s oldest library. It was originally founded by Fatima al-Fihri all the way back in 859 and for over 1,000 years was a mysterious place to the local residents of Fez because they were not permitted to enter. However, the Al-Qarawiyyin Library recently underwent a major renovation and opened its doors to the public in 2017. This exquisite library is home to over 4,000 rare and ancient manuscripts, ornate tile work, and traditional Moroccan architecture.

Traditional arches and mosaics | © flowcomm/Flickr

Taipei Public Library, Taiwan

The Taipei Public Library in the Beitou District received the diamond level EEWH green certification: the first building in Taiwan to obtain this prestigious certification. It opened in 2006 and was built with the environment in mind. The roof was designed in such a way as to drain water to collection reservoirs, which are then used for flushing the toilets and watering the foliage. The roof is also outfitted with solar panels to generate electricity for the library and there are special window and balcony coverings that help lower energy consumption, among several other impressive earth-friendly features.

Think green | © Richie Chan/Shutterstock

Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Egypt

Map View
Library of Alexandria, Corniche Alexandria
Library of Alexandria, Corniche Alexandria | © Vyacheslav Argenberg/Flickr
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt possessed the largest collection of manuscripts in the world until it was burned down in the 3rd century. It was a highly revered center for learning, discussion, and cross-cultural understanding. In October of 2002, the library was revived and opened once again. This awe-inspiring library also contains a planetarium, four museums, and scholarly research centers, on top of its impressive literary collection.

The National Library of the Czech Republic

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The Klementiunum Library, often called The National Library, is located in the capital city of Prague and is regularly regarded as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Between the classic Baroque architecture, magnificent ceiling frescos, and meticulously crafted globes, this library is sure to inspire a state of wonderment. This captivating learning complex, which was founded by the Society of Jesuits in 1556, is one of the largest and oldest libraries in all of Europe. There is so much to do and see beyond admiring the staggering collection of manuscripts here, so it is highly recommended that you take a guided tour.

Library of Birmingham, England

Building, Concert Hall
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An intricate design inspires the mind
An intricate design inspires the mind | © Simon Felton/Flickr
The Library of Birmingham was completed in September of 2013 and has been opened to the public since. With well over one million books, thousands of periodicals and subscriptions, and more than three million check outs a year, the Library of Birmingham is a highly prized public amenity. The facade of the multi-layered building, which includes a Shakespeare Memorial Room on the top, is covered in an intricate pattern of 5,357 metal rings.

Biblioteca Joanina, Portugal

Building, Library, University
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The Joanina library in the University town of Coimbra, Portugal
The Joanina library in the University town of Coimbra, Portugal | © Peter Domican / Alamy Stock Photo
The Biblioteca Joanina is part of the University of Coimbra and is prized as its most gorgeous building. It was built between 1717 and 1728 through the sponsorship of King John V. The library’s design demonstrates components of classic Baroque architecture and is made up of three floors. The bottom floor was an academic prison until 1773. The library is adorned with intricate ceiling painting, exotic carved wood, stunning archways, Chinese motifs, and other lavished details. The library also has a population of resident bats that come out at night to exterminate any bugs that have made their way into the library.

Villanueva Public Library, Colombia

The creation and construction of the Villanueva Public Library in Colombia is truly inspiring in and of itself. Four architects based in Bogotá designed the 16,000 square foot library with the helping hands of ex-Guerillas from the local community who are part of a rehabilitation program. The library was built using locally-sourced river rock, which covers the facade, and sustainably-sourced pine. Villanueva also contains a children’s library, a theater, and an outdoor public space. Inside and out, Villanueva is an intricate masterpiece built with the simplest materials.

UNAM Central Library, Mexico

The UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) Central Library in Mexico City was opened in 1956. The library is home to around 400,000 books. What makes this library quite extraordinary is its exterior though. The ten-story building is covered in a mosaic mural made from colored stones collected throughout Mexico by architect and painter Juan O’Gorman. The mosaic tells a story of Mexico’s history.

Mesmerizing mosaic | © Jordan Adkins/Shutterstock

Central Library of Vancouver, Canada

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Around we go
Around we go | © Meunierd/Shutterstock
The Central Library of Vancouver’s design was inspired by the Colosseum in Rome. Upon entering the massive skylit entrance, there are shops and cafes and then bridges connect various sections of the multi-level library and study, reading, and meeting areas. The abundant natural light helps create an inviting atmosphere for learning, reading, and social and academic gatherings.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Connecticut

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut is one of the largest rare book repositories in the world. A six-story glassed in case takes the center stage of this modern marble building. It opened in 1963 and is the leading devotee to the preservation of rare books, manuscripts, maps, historic tracts, and pamphlets. It is also home to the mysterious Voynich Manuscript. This inspiring library attracts scholars and researchers from around the world.

Six stories of rare books | © Jose L. Vilchez/Shutterstock

New York Public Library, New York

Building, Library
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Collective brillance
Collective brillance | © travelview/Shutterstock
The New York Public Library system is comprised of 92 branches, however the main branch, or Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, is a place that will inspire the imagination, the inquisitive mind, and the life long learner. There’s a children’s center, a scholars and writers center, a rare book division, extensive study and reading space, and regular after-hours cultural events. There are somewhere around 53 million items for review and check-out at the New York Public Library. It is the second largest library in the United States.

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