By Gabrielle Passick
“Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life.”
“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.”
You may be wondering, what makes a library great? There are many qualities which make libraries the greatest of today. Maybe it is the architecture. It could be the immense rare book and special collection room. Another possibility is its extensive music library. Maybe it is a combination of the three. Toward the beginning of the Libraries: Gateway of Knowledge series, we discovered 10 of the Greatest Libraries of the Ancient World. We have taken a trip through the history of libraries. Along the way, the influence of music, art, and languages in libraries were introduced. We will now explore the greatest libraries of today.
“A library is infinity under a roof.” – Gail Carson Levine
1) Library of Congress-Washington, D.C.
Located in Washington, D.C. , the Library of Congress is, “the world’s largest library.” (LOC Fact Sheet). Formed in 1800, this Library houses over 162 million resources from each existing language. (L.O.C). President John Adams made this library a success by signing a law which would allow for a grant exclusively for, “the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress.” (L.O.C). You may be wondering which collections are included within the >162 million resources. This includes:
- “more than 38.6 million cataloged books and other print materials, in 470 languages;
- more than 70 million manuscripts;
- the largest rare book collection in North America;
- the world’s largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings.” (L.O.C)
Amongst these impressive resources, the library is accessible to patrons with disabilities. For more information on what the criteria is for creating a safe space and alternate formats for library materials, Making Your Library ADA Friendly, Not Just ADA Compliant is an excellent article. Library materials such as in Braille, audiobooks, as well as larger print are all available at the Library of Congress. Dcist’s article provides a further look into the L.O.C.
2) Stuttgart City Library
The Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart, or Stuttgart City Library, is located in Stuttgart, Germany. It is a public library which was opened to the public in 2011. The design, created by Eun Young Yi, is quite futuristic and cube-like. According to the Goethe Institute, the Library contains more than 60,000 materials available for patrons to borrow. For more information on,“The Book Cube,” please visit the Institute’s article.
3) Seattle Central Library
Created in 1890, the Seattle Public Library underwent many obstacles, including a fire. After many renovations and the moving of its original location, the Central Library that we are currently familiar with, opened its doors to the public in 2004. (SPL) With a building cost of approximately $170 million, the Library has a 275-seat auditorium (SAH), coffee shop, as well as ten floors of knowledge. A handful of fascinating pieces of information about this Library are:
- “a four-level “Books Spiral” with most of the nonfiction collection in a continuous loop
- exterior “skin” of insulated glass on a steel structure” (SPL)
The “Book Spiral,” is classified by the Dewey Decimal System, which we will soon discover in the next article.
4) New York Public Library
Founded in 1895, the New York Public Library also known as NYPL, is certainly a gateway of knowledge. Although not one particular library, the NYPL refers to several libraries as part of the NYPL system in NYC, 92 to be exact. The NYPL Location Finder may be of assistance to you. “Serving more than 16 million patrons a year, and millions more online, the Library holds more than 56 million items, from books, e-books, and DVDs to renowned research collections used by scholars from around the world.” (NYPL About). The NYPL has been referenced many times in my previous writings. The Library System offers extensive resources and activities from accounting skills all the way to yoga. All of these resources are available to you at no cost. The beauty of applying for a NYPL card is that there is no New York State residence requirement. To apply for a free virtual NYPL temporary card, please click here.
5) Calgary Central Library, Canada
With 450,000 books and 240,000 square feet (Calgary MLC), the Calgary Central Library is another magnificent gateway of knowledge based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Created in 2018, the CCL is considered to be, “one of the most anticipated projects of 2018 and one of the world’s most futuristic libraries.” (MLC). You can watch the Complete Timelapse of Calgary’s New Central Library here. Similar to the Seattle Library, as part of CCL, there is a 340-seat theater, coffee shop, as well as private spaces for study and meetings. The hexagonal design, glass ceiling, and impressive collection of resources, all make this library great.
6) Tianjin Binhai Library, China
Built in only three years, the Tianjin Binhai Library is located southeast of Beijing. Home to 1.2 million books (Archdaily), it is quite an impressive site. Nicknamed “The Eye,” and an “Ocean of Books,” Its unique structure includes arrays of books stemming from the floor of the Library all the way up to the ceiling. Dutch architect, Winy Maas, once provided a description stating, “The Tianjin Binhai Library interior is almost cave-like, a continuous bookshelf.” Just as the other libraries we have explored today, Tianjin includes an auditorium, reading rooms, and various cultural spaces.
7) Royal Library of Copenhagen/Royal Danish Library
Known as the “Black Diamond,” (Archdaily) the Royal Library is certainly on the list of profound buildings. The “Black Diamond,” was built in 1999. It comes to life after the Royal Library in Copenhagen as well as the State and University Library in Aarhus. According to Cenl, “It is among the largest libraries in the world.” This Library is an academic library, which is part of the library system from the University of Copenhagen. To me, the bottom floors represent an acoustic guitar with the pear-like shape, sound-hole, and scroll of an instrument design. Amongst its immense architecture, this library is home to several special collections and archival materials. Literary works dating back from the 17th century and prior, can be found here.
8) National Art Library,Victoria & Albert Museum, London
The National Art Library located in London, England is quite impressive. With over 2.3 million resources, it makes the list of greatest libraries today. It falls under the category of special libraries. Have you read A Look Into Special Libraries? According to Smithsonian Magazine, the National Art Library is, “one of the world’s most extensive reference libraries of fine and decorative art.” (Smithsonian Magazine). Some highlights of the NAL include:
- “Artists’ books
- Auction sale catalogs
- Children’s books
- Documentary manuscripts
- Early printed books
- Exhibition catalogs
- Fine bindings
- Illuminated manuscripts
- Trade literature
- Special collections, such as the “Dyce and Forster collections”
Sotheby’s Institute of Art has an interesting article listing the library protocols in terms of visitation. As there are many fragile collections of both books and artifacts, items cannot leave the library.
This marks the end of the list of greatest libraries. While there are countless other libraries that are considered to be the greatest of today, I believe these eight institutions provide the perfect preview into a world of humanities, imagination, and culture. Have you visited any of these remarkable institutions? Are there any additional libraries that you consider to be the greatest? Please feel free to share your experiences.
There are several other pathways to visit in the world of libraries. We will discover more next time. The best advice is to support your local libraries and take advantage of the abundant resources available to you. Never feel hesitant to ask a librarian for assistance. As Patrick Ness once stated, “Librarians are tour-guides for all of knowledge.”
Libraries: Gateway of Knowledge – Collection:
A Look Into Special Libraries Libraries
Books, & Bibliophiles in Artwork
Art and Relaxation in Libraries
Libraries and Career Preparation
Language in the Library
Music in the Library
Greatest Libraries of the Ancient World
Greatest Librarians of Our History
1) Most Beautiful Libraries in the World
2) Majestic Libraries
3) Smithsonian Magazine
4) Coolest Libraries
5) Most Stunning Libraries
6) 20 Most Beautiful Libraries U.S.
7) Top 10 Largest Libraries in Africa
8) Incredible Libraries in Asia
9) Most Beautiful Libraries in Latin America
10) The Best Libraries in Australia
11) Europe’s 13 Most Beautiful Libraries
12) Libraries of Russia
13) Little Free Library-South Pole
14) National Art Library
15) Fantastic French Libraries
16) Library in Antarctica
17) World’s Biggest Libraries
18) Fascinating Facts
19) Most Unique Libraries
20) Book Capella
21) New International Libraries
22) LOC Fact sheet