In college I worked as a clerk at my school’s library, and there are few things I love more than being tucked away in a cool, nearly silent corner of the stacks. As this is National Library Week, which has celebrated the contributions of libraries and its workers since 1958, what better way to commemorate the occasion than by spotlighting some of the best and most beautiful libraries in the world? Whether you’re a bookworm, a lover of architecture, or simply a fan of peace and quiet, each of these places can provide an escape.
The Iowa State Law Library, Des Moines, Iowa
The Iowa State Law Library is a dreamy getaway, and one that doesn't require a love for Iowa state law to enjoy. Located on the second floor of the state capitol building, the library houses over 100,000 volumes, and still has its original gaslights and a stained glass ceiling dating back to 1884. Perhaps the most breathtaking attractions of the whole building are the four beautiful balconies and two spiral staircases, all made of cast iron.
Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland
Ireland’s largest library is also one of it’s oldest: It was established with the college in 1592. It’s also a treasure trove of artifacts and texts, housing as many as five million manuscripts, journals, maps, and music. One of the most precious items is the historic Book of Kells, an illustrated manuscript of the four gospels of the Holy Bible’s New Testament. It’s well worth a visit, if only to gape at the vaulted ceiling of the Long Room, the main artery of the old library containing the library’s oldest books.
Abbey Library of Saint Gall, Switzerland
The religious complex The Abbey of Saint Gall was a place where arts and scholarly pursuits flourished long before a library was established. Today, the Abbey Library of Saint Gall boasts both, and is home to Switzerland’s oldest collection of books. The stunning Baroque Hall, constructed in the 18th century, is the spot’s crowning jewel, with ornate stuccos, monumental wood architecture, and ceiling frescoes depicting the church’s earliest history.
The Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
Originally established as a place to find “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress,” the Library of Congress was opened to the public in 1897. Today it holds the distinction as the largest library in the world, with its collection bursting with over 151 million items including books, legal materials, films, manuscripts, recordings, photographs, and more. Here’s a tip: visit when Congress is out of session in January. Frigid temperatures will keep many tourists at bay until the summer, so you’ll be free to wander the archives without fighting for a glimpse of the most famous artifacts.
New York Public Library, New York City
One of the most well-known libraries in the world, the New York Public Library (and its iconic marble lions on the front steps) are a staple of pop culture – it’s been in everything from the poetry of E.B. White to Carrie Bradshaw’s wedding on Sex and the City. Built with 530,000 cubic feet of marble, the library possesses a castle-like quality, and the Rose Main Reading Room (pictured above) is one of its finest chambers. Readers can bury their nose in a book while sitting at long oak tables lit by bronze lamps, or admire the murals of billowing clouds painted on the 52-foot tall ceilings.
The Rampur Raza Library, India
Resembling a palace from storybooks, the Rampur Raza Library hosts rare manuscripts, pieces of Islamic calligraphy, astronomical instruments, and illustrated works in Arabic and Persian languages – along with 60,000 printed books. Just outside the building, explore the well-maintained lawns, which offer great views of the library’s incredible towers.