Libraries are bastions of learning and culture that enhance the world we live in. While every community library is an incredible valuable asset to the people around it, some libraries around the world stand above the rest.
5. The New York Public Library
Guarded by two marble lions overlooking Fifth Avenue, the iconic New York Public Library building is one of the most beautiful beaux-arts buildings in America. It has over 55 million borrowable items and over 100,000 free programs every year. The NYPL is home to countless precious English-language manuscripts, an original copy of the declaration of independence, and a Gutenberg bible. The famous Rose Main Reading Room was recently restored and remains the original (and most lavish) coworking space in New York.
4. Bibliotheca Alexandrina
The Great Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt, was one of the great centers of knowledge of the ancient world. A sanctuary for famous scholars of antiquity, the Great Library stored over 700,000 scrolls. Tragically, after a portion of the Great Library was accidentally burnt down by Julius Caesar around 50 A.D., the institution began to gradually decline due to lack of funding and resources. In commemoration of the Great Library of Alexandria, Bibliotheca Alexandrina was built on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in 2002. The $220 million ultramodern building is 11 stories tall and has room for 8 million books.
3. Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève
Across the square from the Panthéon is another great library with a foot in both the past and the future. The Sainte-Geneviève Library in Paris originated as a 6th-century collection of Clovis I, King of Franks. The collection survived the French Revolution, escaping destruction and becoming a secular institution. It contains around 2 million documents and serves as both the city library and the university library for the University of Paris.
2. The Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library
Influenced by the hanging garden of Babylon, the Toronto Reference Library was designed to have a curved atrium with small gardens along the edge of each floor underneath massive, intricate skylights. The unique 5 story building has only been serving the public since the late 70s but is incredibly successful. Over 70% of Torontonians have a library card they regularly use. The vast collection of materials is impressive, but the library’s real gem is the rich and varied community cultural and literary events it offers. The reference library hosts free events and readings frequently, including big-name authors that quickly sell out – all tickets to a recent Roxane Gay reading were snapped up in a mere 88 seconds.
1. The State Library of New South Wales
The oldest library in Australia, The State Library of New South Wales has a wealth of information on Australian history, culture, and literature. Dating back to 1826, it was originally called The Mitchell Library. The building is home to not just a library but also a gallery and museum. Highlights include drawing from early explorers, diaries from the first world war, and modern photography collections.