Stuttgart City Library – Stuttgart, Germany
Designed by Korean architect Eun Young Yi, the new Stuttgart City Library opened in 2011 to mixed reviews from locals, library enthusiasts, and architects. It’s been derided as a two-color Rubik’s Cube, a block-shaped prison for books, and a sterile unfriendly environment. But with the funnelling staircases connecting the book-filled floors skyward and hidden cozy seating areas, I think it looks more like a less-fluffy heaven for nerds.
Bibliotheca Alexandrina – Alexandria, Egypt
Nothing remains of the original Library of Alexandria — the biggest and most prominent library of the ancient world — and nobody knows for sure exactly when and how it was destroyed. But nearly 2,000 years later in 2002, the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina opened as an homage to the original. Reinventing a piece of the ancient world in a modern time, the new Alexandria Library is the only location of a mirrored back-up copy of the Internet Archive, home of the Internet Wayback Machine.
Taipei Public Library – Beitou, Taiwan
The Beitou branch of the Taipei Public Library system was the first building in Taiwan to receive the highest EEWH rating possible — the diamond rating — making it the most eco-conscious building in the country. Built with wood from sustainably managed forests, the library also uses photovoltaic cells to generate power, has an insulating 20-centimeter layer of soil on the roof, and uses collected rainwater to flush the toilets. And books. They also have books.
Centrale Bibliotheek – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam’s Centrale Bibliotheek, at 28,000 square meters, is the largest library in the Netherlands. A ground source heating system coupled with highly efficient boilers uses atmospheric air for cooling which, in addition to rooftop solar panels, sustainable building materials, and a Long-Term Energy Storage System, makes the Central Library the greenest building in Amsterdam.
Bibliotheque Nationale – Paris, France
Paris’ Bibliotheque nationale de France consists of 4 open-book-shaped towers arranged around a dug-out mature forest courtyard. Constructed in 1996 to replace a previous library building that could no longer hold the expanding collections, the 22-story structures make this library one of the largest in the world.
Trinity College Long Room – Dublin, Ireland
Ireland’s oldest university, Trinity College, is also the location of the largest library in Ireland. The oldest and rarest of its collection is housed in the Long Room, the largest single-chamber library in the world with over 200,000 volumes preserved inside. Aside from famously housing one of Ireland’s national emblems, the Brian Boru harp (yes, the one from the Guinness logo), the Long Room made headlines again recently for serving as “unofficial” inspiration for the Jedi Archives in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
St. Catherine’s Monastery – South Sinai, Egypt
The oldest continually operated library in the world, St. Catherine’s Monastery has been around since it was first built by the order of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, sometime around 564 AD. It currently holds over 3,000 religious and educational manuscripts and approximately 8,000 printed books, including first editions of Homer and Plato.
Picture Book Library – Iwaki City, Japan
Built in 2005, the Picture Book Museum gave the preschoolers of Iwaki, Fukushima, a space to call their own. Turned off by the shhh-ing atmosphere of traditional libraries, the Picture Book Library’s founder gave architect Tadao Ando free rein to create a space that would be inviting for children. His only order was to make sure the covers of the books were visible. The glass-walled and vibrant end result was celebrated as a new paradigm in educational spaces in Japan, and as an architectural masterpiece.
Royal Grammar School Chained Library – Guildford, England
Established in the early 1500s, the Royal Grammar School contains one of few remaining examples of the practice of chaining books to shelves. This allowed important or particularly useful books to be placed in communal areas for public perusal rather than locked away, paving the way for the public library system. Now the Headmaster’s Study, the Chained Library holds books that date back to the late 1400s, including two early editions of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia.
Boston Public Library – Boston, USA
Opened in 1848, the Boston Public Library is the second largest library in the United States, with over 24 million volumes. It was also the first public, free-to-all library, and the first to lend books out to patrons. So, if you’ve ever had to pay a 13-year-old library fine for those Goosebumps books you borrowed when you were 11, you know who to thank.
Nassau Public Library – Nassau, Bahamas
The Nassau Public Library has street-cred — it once housed the criminal population of the city. Originally built in the late 1700s as a jail, the octagonal building was converted into a library around 1837, with each of the 8 sides now holding a portion of the library’s 28,000-volume collection.
Stockholm Public Library – Stockholm, Sweden
The first library in Sweden to adopt an open shelf design, the Stockholm Public Library opened its doors in 1928, when architect Gunnar Asplund and librarian Fredrik Hjelmqvist decided — to the joy of librarians all over the world — that library patrons could fetch their own books. Their self-service model was reinvigorated recently, with a renewed push toward automation for check-outs and returns.
McAllen Public Library – McAllen, Texas, USA
When the city of McAllen acquired an old retail property, they brought on Minneapolis-based architects Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd. to convert the space into a massive new public library that looks nothing like the Wal-Mart it once was. The largest single-story public library in the United States, the new McAllen Public Library now includes a massive children’s area with one of the largest teen areas in the state, an art gallery, a 200-seat auditorium, and — because you can’t scrub off the Wal-Mart entirely — a food court-esque snack bar.
Reading Club 2000 – Manila, Philippines
Reading Club 2000 began when Hernando Guanlao — known to friends and neighbors as Nanie — sought out a way to honor the memory of his parents, who instilled in him the love for reading. He set old textbooks of his own outside his Manila home to see if others would be interested in borrowing them. They were. 12 years later, Nanie’s library now contains somewhere around 2,500 books (he doesn’t know the exact count), and he even runs a “book bike” service, where he delivers reading material to the poorest communities in Manila.
Library of Congress – Washington, DC, USA
The McAllen Public Library may be the largest single-story library in the nation, but the Library of Congress in Washington, DC is the largest library in the world with over 151.8 million items sitting on 838 miles of bookshelves. Maybe the massive collection is trying to compensate for its smallest book — a 1/25″ x 1/25″ copy of Old King Cole, the pages of which can only be turned with the help of a needle.