While we all know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, this is one case in which evaluating something based on its appearance is not only accepted, but encouraged. We may not be as reliant on brick-and-mortar libraries anymore, but even in the digital era, we had no trouble finding dozens of architecturally interesting libraries and libraries with interesting collections, as well as many that are actually fascinating in both respects. So whether you’re a bookworm or an architect lover start adding these libraries to your must-visit list.
The Seattle Central Library redefines the library as an institution no longer exclusively dedicated to the book, but as an information store where all potent forms of media—new and old—are presented equally and legibly. In an age where information can be accessed anywhere, it is the simultaneity of all media and, more importantly, the curatorship of their content that will make the library vital. Instead of its current ambiguous flexibility, the library could cultivate a more refined approach by organizing itself into spatial compartments, each dedicated to, and equipped for, specific duties. Tailored flexibility remains possible within each compartment, but without the threat of one section hindering the others. The new Central Library opened May 23, 2004. The 11-floor building contains an innovative “Books Spiral,” a 275-seat auditorium, and open spaces where patrons can meet, study, search the web or read. The Library has centers for children, teens and adult readers, along with expanded collections and a large computer lab. It also has underground parking for about 143 vehicles.
2. BODLEIAN LIBRARY — OXFORD, UNITED KINGDOM
The Bodleian Library is the main research library of the University of Oxford, and is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and derives its name from its founder, Sir Thomas Bodley. With over 13 million printed items, it is the second-largest library in Britain after the British Library. The library built up a collection of more than 4,200,000 printed volumes and 50,000 manuscripts. Since then the Bodleian libraries has grown to be the largest academic library system in the UK. In its reading rooms generations of famous scholars have studied through the ages, amongst them monarchs, Nobel Prize winners, British Prime Ministers and writers including Oscar Wilde, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. At the site, you can explore historic spaces that you might recognise from popular films and TV series such as Harry Potter and A Discovery of Witches. We also offer free, inspiring exhibitions featuring the libraries’ rich collections, two unique gift shops and a lovely café.
KING Phillip II of Spain wanted to build a library that would hold not only books and manuscripts of philosophy and theology but also instruments of scientific learning such as ornate globes and astrolabes, both celestial and terrestrial, and maps of the known world. The library was designed by the mathematical and architectural genius Juan de Herrera, and it is notable for being the first library on the European continent to break from the medieval dogmatic beliefs on architecture and decoration. The enormous collection of over 40,000 books and manuscripts kept here cover everything from philosophy to politics to poetry, written in a multitude of different languages, including Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Chinese, and even Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Colorful frescoes adorn the ceiling depicting scenes from classical history that represent what the ancients considered to be the seven arts: grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the entrance fee 10 euros. El Escorial can be reached via public transport from Madrid. Simply take the Cercanias train about a half hour from the Atocha or Sol station. Once you reach the station in El Escorial, it’s a 30-minute walk to get to the palace, much of which is uphill so it can be quite a hike.
4. READING ROOM AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM — LONDON, ENGLAND
The British Museum Reading Room, situated in the centre of the Great Court of the British Museum, used to be the main reading room of the British Library. In 1997, this function moved to the new British Library building at St Pancras, London, but the Reading Room remains in its original form at the British Museum. With a design by Sydney Smirke (1798–1877), work on the Reading Room began in 1854. Three years later it was completed. Using cast iron, concrete, glass and the latest heating and ventilation systems, it was a masterpiece of mid-19th century technology. The room had a diameter of 42.6m (140ft) and was inspired by the domed Pantheon in Rome. However, it isn’t a free-standing dome in the technical sense. It has been constructed in segments on a cast-iron framework. The ceiling is suspended on cast iron struts hanging down from the frame and is made out of papier-mâché. Many bookstacks were built surrounding the new Reading Room. They were made of iron to take the weight of the books and protect them against fire. In all, they contained three miles (4.8km) of bookcases and 25 miles (40km) of shelves. As part of the Great Court development the interior of the Reading Room was carefully restored. This process saw the papier mâché interior of the dome repaired and the original blue, cream and gold colour scheme reinstated. When it reopened in 2000, the Reading Room was made available to all Museum visitors for the first time. It housed a modern information centre, the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Centre, and a collection of 25,000 books, catalogues and other printed material, which focused on the world cultures represented in the Museum. The Reading Room was used for special exhibitions from 2007 until 2013.
The Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading is a library and lusophone cultural institution, is located in Luís de Camões Street, number 30, in the center of the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is listed by the State Institute of Cultural Heritage. The book collection contained in the Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading has created one of the most stunning examples of “library porn” on the planet as well as showing the history and breadth of writing that has come out of Portugal. The façade of the library is constructed of Lisbon stone brought by ship from Portugal to Rio. Built in the Neo-Manueline revival style — based on the 16th-century architecture of Portugal — its design was inspired by the Jeonimos Monastery in Lisbon. The library has been open to the public since 1900. Today, it publishes the magazine Convergência Lusíada, a journal of Portuguese literature and culture, and offers college-level courses on literature, the Portuguese language, history, anthropology, and the arts. You are welcome to visit this cathedral of knowledge without knowing a single word of Portuguese. The walls are lined with rising strata of stacks creating one of the most fantastical atmospheres in the world. There are also paintings and other pieces of Portuguese cultural ephemera contained in the collection, making it not only a jaw-dropping library, but a vital accumulation of Portugal’s history.