Including libraries on your must-see list when travelling may seem counter-intuitive to having a good time, especially in our electronically informed world but libraries deserve a place of prominence on our international itineraries.
Why, you ask? The answer is because not only do libraries promote reading and access to information to all, but they are anchors within their communities (big and small) and tend to mirror the true nature of their location.
So if you want to get a feel for the people or good sense of a place, go visit the public library – it will tell you far more about the locals and how they live more so than any tourism website.
Not only do libraries serve as a vital community hubs but the importance of libraries across the world is often reflected in the government funds invested in their architecture and amazing design.
Also before the age of the internet right back to the times of Ancient Rome, libraries were the central repository for all knowledge and played a key part of the community life.
We have selected the best ten from a much longer list of beautiful and striking public libraries from across the globe to remind the ardent traveller that libraries are not just musty boring relics of a pre-Internet era – they are often the vibrant and energetic epicentres of the community.
1. Abbey Library St Gallen
Founded by Saint Othmar, the Abbey Library of Saint Gall is the oldest in Switzerland, and is one of earliest and most important monastic libraries in the world. The Abbey Library - with Switzerland's most beautiful non-ecclesiastical Baroque hall contains 170,000 books. Close to 50,000 of these books can be found in the Baroque hall, where the 2,700 year old Egyptian mummy Shepenese is also located. The Library as part of the abbey, was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1983.
2. Canadian Parliamentary Library, Ottawa
The Library of Parliament originated in the legislative libraries of Upper and Lower Canada, created in the 1790s. These libraries were amalgamated when Upper and Lower Canada were united in 1841.Then in 1857 Parliament gained a permanent home after Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the capital. The Library building, designed in Victorian Gothic Revival style by Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones, opened in 1876. Its particular design was from the inspiration of the first Parliamentary Librarian, Alpheus Todd. He recommended that the building be “spacious and lofty”.
In 2006, the doors of the historic Library of Parliament building re-opened following four years of intensive renovation and upgrading. The upgrade has retained much of the original 1876 character.
3. Mortlake Wing of the State Library of South Australia
The Mortlock Wing opened in 1884 now performs a large range of public functions and services, including exhibitions, conservation and reformatting services, study spaces on the first gallery with wireless internet access. The Mortlock Wing also provides a home to the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia Library and a fine reminder of 19th century architecture and design.
4. Royal Library of Monastery San Lorenzode El Escorial, Madrid
Considered one the most important libraries in the world is the Royal Library at El Escorial. The collection includes 45,000 books from the 15th and 16th century. Most of the works come from the private collection of the King.In addition to the books are also approximately 5,000 manuscripts in Latin, Spanish and Arabic. In the middle of the room there are two globe and a model of the solar system.
The guilded books are unusually stored on to beautiful carved wooden shelves with their pages facing outward. This is done so the spines are not damaged. The walls and ceilings are decorated with frescos painted by Tibaldi, depicting the seven liberal arts: Rhetoric, Dialectic, Music, Grammar, Arithmetic, Geometry and Astronomy.
5. Warsaw University Library
The University of Warsaw Library (Biblioteka Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego) is an ultra-modern library of two buildings connected by a little street covered by a glass roof. The library offers all visitors unrestricted access to study desks; these may be small tables, individual work stations, or completely isolated small rooms.
Also worthy of a visit is the Polish Poster Gallery (Galeria Plakatu Polskiego), which exhibits original post-war posters. The collection has about 7,000 pieces including movie, theatre, entertainment and political posters, which include some by outstanding Polish graphic artists such as Henryk Tomaszewski, Andrzej Pągowski, Jan Lenica, Jan Młodożeniec, and Franciszek Starowieyski.
The biggest attraction is the BUW's roof garden, which spreads over an area of more than 1 hectare, making it one of the largest and most beautiful roof gardens in Europe. The garden is open to the general public (although it is enclosed) and is open to students, researchers, Warsaw residents and tourists. The garden consists of two part linked by a fountain of cascading water. From the deck, you get a panoramic view of Warsaw, the Vistula river and the Świętokrzyski Bridge.
6. National Library of Brasilia located in Cultural Complex of the Republic
The National Library of Brasília is located at the Monumental Axis of the city of Brasilia and is part of the ultramodern Cultural Complex of the Republic. The building was known as "the library without books" for a considerable period because it stood empty and closed for visitors after its inauguration in 1960. The library building occupies an area of 14,000 m2, consisting of reading and study rooms, auditorium and a collection of over 300,000 items.
7. National Library in Minsk, Belarus
Founded on 15 September 1922, the Library is a copyright library of the Republic of Belarus and houses the largest collection of Belarusian printed materials and the third largest collection of books in Russian in the world.
The building has 22 floors and was completed in January 2006. The building can seat about 2,000 readers and features a 500-seat conference hall. Its main architectural component has the shape of a rhombicuboctahedron. The library's new building was designed by architects Mihail Vinogradov and Viktor Kramarenko and opened on 16 June 2006.
The National Library of Belarus is the main information and cultural centre of the country and patronised by more than 90 thousand citizens of Belarus.
In addition to serving as a functional library, the National Library is a city attraction. It is situated in a park on a river bank and has an observation deck looking over Minsk. As of 2009 it is the only structure in Minsk with a public observation deck. The area in front of the library is used for many public concerts and shows.
8. Guangzhou Public Library at night
The new Guangzhou Library is situated on the banks of the Pearl River on Flower City Square and on Guangzhou’s new central axis. The design of the square cam from the Guangzhou Government efforts to create a city “living room”. The Library is the “cultural window” of the city’s “living room”. Taken from east to west, the elegant design of the north and south towers bares a resemblance to the Chinese character “之”. The cascading style of the “books” on the exterior is representative of the overlap of history and culture. At the same time, the design integrates the typical architectural concept of arcade, and embodies elements of Lingnan art.
9. Maria Teresa Hall, National Braidense Library, Milan
The National Braidense Library (Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense) in Milan is one of the 47 Italian State libraries. The National Braidense Library was originated when the State Congregation for Lombardy, an organisation promoting the interests of the local community, acquired the library of Count Carlo Pertusati, and donated it to the Archduke Ferdinand, son of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, later governor of Lombardy.
The library was opened to the public in 1786 and the name of the hall (pictured) comes from the founder of the Library, the Empress Maria Theresia of Hapsburg (Vienna 1717-1780). Today, the hall is used for exhibitions and cultural events and is also offered to external organisations for the same uses.
The remarkable bookshelves of the Hall were designed by the architect Giuseppe Piermarini. They are made of walnut and are composed by two distinct orders with a continuous balcony.
The great drop-shaped Bohemia crystal chandeliers were reconstructed with the remainings of the chandeliers that lighted the Caryatid Hall of Palazzo Reale, which were destroyed during the Second World War bombings.
10. Amsterdam Public Library
At 28,000 m2 – Amsterdam boasts Europe’s largest public library, the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (Amsterdam Public Library). Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (OBA). The Amsterdam Public Library open in July 2007 makes a bold architectural statement and is located just a five-minute walk east of Central Station.
The library was conceived by Jo Coenen, the former state architect of the Netherlands, and is spread over seven floors in a cutting-edge ecological design.
In addition to unique collections, the library also consists of a theatre, a radio station, conference rooms, exhibition space, a music department, study pods, a readers’ café and a restaurant with an outdoor terrace overlooking the city. The unusual seating design throughout the library offers south-facing panoramic views and creates a sense of being in a modern art gallery.