Library of Congress, Washington D.C
Originally serving only Congress rather than the people themselves, the Library of Congress is now the national library of the United States. Housed under three separate buildings on Capitol Hill, each built at separate junctures in history, it is the largest library in the world with a collection of more than 170 million items. Currently, the library employs 3,000 staff members, and houses 38 million books, as well as 70 million manuscripts in their catalog. Every working day they receive around 15,000 items, and add 10,000 to their catalogs. Most come through the copyright registration process; others are gifts, purchases, or exchanges from libraries in the U.S. or abroad. In 2015, they announced plans to archive every single Tweet.
The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, UK
One of the oldest libraries in Europe, running consistently for 400 years. It is second only in size to the British Library (in Europe), and they have an incomparable collection of books and manuscripts. In addition, some of the buildings housing the books and other materials have been in continuous use since the Middle Ages, and now the “Bod’ as it is fondly referred to by faculty and students, holds 13 million printed items. It has expanded over the last 150 years to keep pace with the ever-expanding accumulation of books and other materials, but its main core is intact. Two of its branches, Old Bodleian and Old Weston, are open to visitors.
Trinity College Library, Dublin
Trinity College Dublin serves both Trinity College and the University of Dublin. The history of the library began in 1592; some years later Henry Jones, a notable Irish bishop, gave the library The Book of Kells, the library’s oldest manuscript. The oldest library building was finished in 1732, and contains the Long Room, a 213-foot chamber housing 200,000 of the library’s oldest books. Trinity College Dublin is also a legal depository, meaning all publishers in Ireland must deposit a copy of all their publications there, free of charge. They also hold one of the last copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, as well as many other rare and ancient documents and texts.
Biblioteca Joanina, Coimbra, Portugal
Originally established in 1290, the library was not moved to its current location until 1537. Sheltering 200,000 books, all date from the 16th-18th century, ranging from medicine, geography, and theology, as well as other subjects. They have three techniques to keep their books safe: their external walls are 83 inches thick and the front door is made of teak, keeping the room temperature at a consistent 64-68 degrees; the shelves are made entirely of oak, and because of its hard surface, insects have a difficult time boring into it, and as a bonus oak is offensive to worms; finally, a colony of bats live in the walls of the library, coming out at night to destroy any potential insects. They are one of only two libraries in the world to house bats as a way to protect their books from insects.
The British Library, London, England
In 1973 the British Library detached from the British Museum and they were given their own building, whom they had been a part of since 1857. They are a major research library, with books and other materials in many languages; their collection includes 14 million books, adding about 3 million more items to their catalogue each year. It is estimated that the library holds 170 million books, manuscripts, recordings, and other artifacts, with some documents going as far back as 2000 B.C.
The New York Public Library, New York City
Now over 100 years old, the main branch in mid-town Manhattan holds more than 55 million items and serves some 17 million patrons a year, in addition to millions more online. The origins of the library began in the 1850s when James Lenox and John J. Astor opened their own personal libraries to the public but began having financial difficulties as their collections grew. In 1896 former governor Samuel Tilden died and left 2.4 million dollars to build a city library; agreements were signed, and construction began. By 1910, 75 miles of shelves were installed to house the one million books. The “graduate-level” collections that exist today were initially formed from the combination of the Astor and Lenox Libraries, but have evolved into one of the world’s most renowned resources for the study of human thought, action, and experience, “for use by all people.”
George Peabody Library, Baltimore, MD
If you’re near Baltimore, you might want to stop by the Peabody Library, with it’s jaw-dropping 6 floor atrium and the nickname “cathedral of books.” Conceived in 1878 as the United States’ first music conservatory—and is still a top-notch one today as part of John Hopkins University—the library was originally designed as part of that arts and cultural heritage, with reference books dating back to the 19th century on science, archeology, and literature. While the building is open to the public most days, the space also serves as a backdrop for films and TV shows, as well as a regal space for weddings. Cathedral indeed.
Los Angeles Central Library, Los Angeles, CA
Originally established in 1872, the Central Library was constructed in its current location in 1926 in what was formerly called the Goodhue building. Today the Richard J. Riordian Central Library, filled with Mexican Late Baroque architecture and murals depicting the history of Los Angeles, is now considered to be a Downtown Los Angeles landmark. In 1986, they suffered a major fire, losing 400,000 books, and seriously damaging 700,000 more. It cost $14 million to replace them, and 7 years for the library renovate and reopen. Today they are the third largest library in the U.S., and they have 89 miles of shelves, with seating for 1,400.
The Morgan Library and Museum J.P. Morgan
collected all types of rare books and every other medium of art voraciously, building a library that is worthy of a king. Though the book collection is not large, it is the specific books and manuscripts that will draw one to the Morgan: three Gutenberg Bibles; concept drawings for the Little Prince; a Percy Bysshe Shelley notebook; original poems by Robert Burns; 1000 incunable books (books bound before 1501), a one-of-a-kind manuscript with handwritten markups and edits from Dickens himself; a journal by Henry David Thoreau; and the only surviving manuscript of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, transcribed and corrected under the direction of the blind poet. The library is open to the public, but also serves as a scholarly research center.
Stuggart City Library, Stuggart, Germany
Opened in 2011, this modern, architecturally beautiful library is an 11 floor monolithic cube, with 2 floors in a sub-basement and 9 above. With the interior of the library almost entirely white, bookshelves line the outer walls. The word “library” is written in four different languages facing each direction: German is north; English is west; Arabic is south, the language of ancient knowledge; and Korea is east, the architect’s native country. While they don’t have a large volume of books (60,000), the list of services they offer their community is immense, something the city council took into consideration when thinking about the 170 countries their citizen hail from. At night, the exterior of the building lights up in neon blue.