6 beautiful libraries around the world to visit


The Wiblingen Monastery Library, in Germany, boasts impressive murals by painter Franz Martin Kuen. — SPATZAMEEZ/Wikimedia Commons

Since 1995, World Book Day, an annual event by Unesco, has been recognised and celebrated to promote reading, publishing and copyright.

The date of April 23 was chosen to celebrate this day as it also coincides with the death anniversary of famous writers William Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, along with the births and deaths of other prominent authors of the past.

With books dating back centuries, this special day holds the key to linking the stories of the past and the present, bridging cultures and languages across generations. As we celebrate and recognise the creative works of authors, let’s take a look at six libraries around the world that will surely capture the eyes of readers.

George Peabody Library, United States

The intention of American philanthropist George Peabody had always been to create a library for the free use of all. Hence, he dedicated the George Peabody Library – which is free and open to the public – to folks living in Baltimore, Maryland.

The library’s collection, which dates back to 1860, includes over 300,000 books that are largely from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Designed by architect Edmund George Lind and completed in 1878, the library is often described as the “cathedral of books”. Five levels of elegant cast-iron balconies rise dramatically to the skylight 18.6m above the floor in the stack room.

Between July 2002 and May 2004, the historic library underwent a US$1mil (RM3.8mil at the time, when the ringgit was pegged to the dollar) renovation and refurbishing. Today the library is part of the Special Collections Department of the Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins University.

Beautiful paintings decorate the Library of the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial's ceiling. — XAUXA HAKAN SVENSSON/Wikimedia CommonsBeautiful paintings decorate the Library of the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial's ceiling. — XAUXA HAKAN SVENSSON/Wikimedia Commons

San Lorenzo de El Escorial monastery library, Spain

The library is located in the compound of the Escorial, the historical residence of the King of Spain which is also a designated Unesco World Heritage Site, inscribed in 1984.

King Phillip II of Spain envisioned a library containing not only philosophy and theological books and manuscripts, but also scientific learning tools such as elaborate globes, both celestial and terrestrial, and maps of the world.

The library boasts a vast collection of more than 40,000 books and manuscripts spanning a wide range of subjects, including politics, philosophy, and poetry, and are written in numerous languages.

Even though architect Juan de Herrera was influenced by the Italian renaissance while designing the library, it ended up having a more Spanish style.

Beautiful paintings on the ceiling illustrate events from classical history referencing grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy. These were considered by the ancient to be the seven arts.

The Escorial is Spain’s most complete and striking example of a later Renaissance monument, despite some losses of its contents due to fire and pillage.

Tianjin Binhai Library is nicknamed The Eye. — MUZZLEFLASH/Wikimedia CommonsTianjin Binhai Library is nicknamed The Eye. — MUZZLEFLASH/Wikimedia Commons

Tianjin Binhai Library, China

Featuring a luminous spherical auditorium, the Tianjin Binhai Library boasts bookshelves arranged from all sides of the sphere where they serve as seating and stairs as well.

Nicknamed The Eye, the library is part of the Binhai Cultural Centre. The entire area of the five-storey library is 33,700sq m and is able to hold up to 1.2 million books that reach the ceiling and terraces. A large, luminous sphere in the middle of the library doubles as an auditorium that can hold up to 110 people.

Designed by Dutch architectural firm MVRDV, alongside the Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute, the library looks like a place out of a sci-fi movie with its very futuristic features.

The library opened its doors in October 2017.

The Hachioji Library at Tama Art University seamlessly blends in with its surrounding. — ERIC MATHIAS/Wikimedia CommonsThe Hachioji Library at Tama Art University seamlessly blends in with its surrounding. — ERIC MATHIAS/Wikimedia Commons

The Hachioji Library at Tama Art University, Japan

About 77,000 Japanese books, 47,000 foreign books, and 1,500 periodicals can be found in the Hachioji Library at Tama Art University in Tokyo.

As an art university, the library was designed to reflect and inspire creativity among its students. Designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito, the library is often credited for its unique concept where the space was specifically designed with relaxation space in mind.

Constructed using both steel and concrete, the library is only two storeys high and includes a basement level. Glass walls and arches of steel and concrete were incorporated into the design to allow the library to seamlessly blend with the surrounding terrain.

The first level has a theatre section with a large screen, as well as an all-purpose gallery space that can host different events and exhibitions. On the second level, there are open access bookshelves with around 100,000 books. The bookshelves were specially created to balance the harmony of the arches and the building’s angled floors.

Wiblingen Monastery Library, Germany

In 1093, the counts Hartmann and Otto von Kirchberg established the Wiblingen Monastery in Ulm, southern Germany. Hidden within this historical monastery is a beautiful library that used to house 15,000 books, which was a lot of books for a university at the time.

But throughout time, these have been moved or taken. Though most of the books you see on the shelves today are old, only 96 of the initial volumes from the library’s foundation survive.

Completed in 1744, the library’s interior is considered to be one of the finest examples of Rococo architecture. Located on the upper floors of the monastery, the library boasts impressive murals by painter Franz Martin Kuen depicting both Christian and pagan figures.

The room is filled with statues that appear to be made of porcelain but are actually painted carved wood, created by Dominikus Hermenegild Herberger.

Today, the monastery is part of the University of Ulm.

Abbey Library at St Gall is among the most elegant and oldest in the world. — STIFTSBIBLIOTHEK ST GALLEN/Wikimedia CommonsAbbey Library at St Gall is among the most elegant and oldest in the world. — STIFTSBIBLIOTHEK ST GALLEN/Wikimedia Commons

Library at Saint Gall abbey, Switzerland

One of the most significant monastic libraries worldwide, the library at the Saint Gall abbey is among the most elegant and oldest in the world. The library collection was founded in the 8th century and many of the 160,000 valuable volumes are almost just as old.

The collection consists of manuscripts from the 8th to 15th centuries and books printed before 1500. In 937, a fire destroyed the abbey but the library was spared from the incident.

Frequent exhibitions featured handwritten texts, such as bibles, prayer books, liturgical works, and biographies of saints dating back to the eighth century. Daily routines of resident monks were depicted in featured works, which shed light on abbey life from the 9th century through the Middle Ages.

The library hall was designed by architect Peter Thumb and was constructed from 1758 to 1767, showcasing exquisite ceiling frescoes, sloping balconies, and polished woodwork.

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