There are three crucial dates in the bookworm’s calendar – book week, bookshop week and libraries week. 5th – 10th October is #librariesweek (and, incidentally, the week of my #birthday 🥳 ) so I’m paying homage to the hushed and hallowed world of libraries with a montage of some of the world’s most wonderful libraries. What I wouldn’t give to lose a day or so in these stunning soul-soothers …
“The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library”
Trinity College Library, Dublin 🇮🇪
The Library’s history dates back to the establishment of the College in 1592 and it is the largest library in Ireland. Today it has over 6 million printed volumes reflecting over 400 years of academic development. The library’s magnificent Long Room (pictured) houses 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books in its oak bookcases.
“I have found the most valuable thing in my wallet is my library card”
Laura Bush – librarian and wife of George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States
The Girolamini Oratorian State Library, Naples 🇮🇹
The library houses approximately 159,700, including 5,000 editions dating back to the sixteenth century, and 10,000 rare and valuable editions. The library opened to the public in 1586, specialises in Christian theology, philosophy, Christian church history, sacred music, and the general history of Europe.
“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of a library”
Jorge Luis Borges
Abbey Library of St Gall, Switzerland 🇨🇭
The library holds almost 160,000 volumes, with most available for public use. In addition to older printed books, the collection includes 1650 incunabula (books printed before 1500), and 2100 manuscripts dating back to the 8th through 15th centuries. A Greek inscription above the entrance door, psyché iatreion, translates as “apothecary of the soul”.
“Nothing is pleasanter than exploring a library”
Walter Savage Landor
The Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading, Rio De Janeiro 🇧🇷
The library was founded in 1837 by a group of 43 Portuguese immigrants who wanted to promote culture throughout the Portuguese community living in the Brazilian empire. It houses the largest collection of Portuguese works outside of Portugal, with a total of 350,000 volumes of both national and foreign books. Each year, the library receives approximately 6,000 additional titles from Portugal to add to its collection.
“When in doubt go to the library”
George Peabody Library, Baltimore 🇺🇸
The library’s collection dates from the founding of the Peabody Institute in 1857. The stack room (pictured) contains five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies, which rise to the skylight 61 feet above the floor. The library contains 300,000 volumes, mainly from the 19th century.
“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one”
The library of the Palace of Mafra 🇵🇹
At 88m long, 9.5m wide and 13m high this is one of the most significant Rococo libraries in the world. It houses over 36,000 leather-bound volumes, and is famed for its magnificent white interior, and floor covered with tiles of rose, grey and white marble. The Library was used in Gulliver’s Travels (1996) as the Great Chamber of War for the Emperor of Lilliput.
“Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague”
Klementium Baroque library, Prague 🇨🇿
The library was first opened in 1722 as a part of the Jesuit university based in Klementinum. It houses over 20,000 volumes of mostly foreign theological literature, coming into Klementinum from the beginning of the 17th century until recent times. Books with white painted spines and red marks have been in the library since the time of the Jesuits.
“Libraries always remind me that there are good things in this world”
Library of El Escorial Monastery, Madrid 🇪🇸
More than 500,000 visitors come to El Escorial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, every year. Currently the library includes more than 40,000 volumes, stored on beautifully hand-carved wooden shelves in the 54m-long great hall. The collections also comprises instruments of scientific learning such as ornate globes and astrolabes, both celestial and terrestrial, and maps of the known world.
“Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities”
R. David Lankes
New York City Library 🇺🇸
The library holds more than 55m items including treasures such as Columbus’s 1493 letter announcing his discovery of the New World, and George Washington’s original Farewell Address. The library serves 17m patrons a year through its 88 neighbourhood branches and four research centres.
“An original idea. That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them”
Tianjin Binhai Library 🇨🇳
Opened 2017, this library is a whopping 33,700sqm, with floor-to-ceiling cascading book shelves that can hold 1.2 million books. The ‘terraces’ form places to read, browse, and learn, and surround a large central luminous sphere which has given the library its nickname: The Eye.
“To ask why we need libraries at all, when there is so much information available elsewhere, is about as sensible as asking if roadmaps are necessary now that there are so very many roads”
Stuttgart Library 🇩🇪
This distinctly futuristic library opened in 2011, built at an overall cost of € 79m. It boasts state of the art library tech including intelligent shelving, self-steering trolleys, an automatic check-out and return facility, short-range chip for payment, and interactive ‘touch screen’ columns that display information such as directions and forthcoming events.
“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”
I’ve been saving the best library until last. It’s a small but mighty library, and the library of my childhood. Allow me to introduce …
Harpenden Library, Hertfordshire 🇬🇧
This is the library my Mum (mega book addict) visited each week. We had a little library van that trundled round our villages but the range of books wasn’t quite sufficient for Mum’s voracious bookishness. So, every week when she drove to Harpenden to do the weekly shop, she treated herself to a library visit. And during the school holidays she would take me and my sister too.
The three of us would head off in different directions to track down the book to feed our latest book cravings, with an agreement that we’d leave Mum in peace for at least an hour. Luckily for Mum, her booklove had passed down the line and I had no problem filling my time there: I’d head straight for the shelves where I knew my childhood favourites lived, greedily load myself up with a dozen or so, and then head off to a quiet corner to read as much as I could in the time we had. My only struggle was limiting the number of books I wanted to take home with me, to keep within the rather strict limit. But I always loved that stamp the library used to mark the date in the books – wielded with an unmistakable mixture of authority and pride! Sadly, this library has gone now (it was quite a struggle tracking down this photo), but it lives on in my head … oh so vividly.
Thank you so much for indulging me. I think we all have at least one library that’s at the heart of our own love of books. I’d love to hear about your beloved childhood library, or of any stunning libraries you’ve visited on your worldly travels …