Visit 28 of the Best Libraries in the World

Enobong Essien

Staff Writer

Enobong is a former professional dancer turned publicity and marketing assistant and life-long lover of books. Fully Nigerian and fully British, Enobong now lives in Chicago with her nonfiction enthusiast husband and peculiar yet adorable cat roommate.

In his keynote speech for the American Library Association’s 2019 annual conference, Jason Reynolds spoke of libraries as “sacred” spaces. I’m inclined to agree. There are many of us for whom libraries are very close to sacred spaces of worship, and the architecture of many of them rivals some of the world’s most famous cathedrals, mosques, and Buddhist temples. I also find it no coincidence that many of the best libraries in the world have ties to holy places as well.

While the library of my dreams is a fictional one (Beauty and the Beast), there are many in this world that give it stiff competition. Here’s some of the best libraries in the world: the oldest, the largest, and more.

28 of the Best Libraries in the World

5 of the World’s Oldest Libraries

Because, as much as we would love to, we can’t visit the ancient library of Alexandria.

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One of the Muslim worlds greatest treasures has been reborn – As the worlds oldest library, al-Qarawiyyin was founded in Fez more than a thousand years ago. Architect and Fez native Aziza Chaouni has breathed new life into this historical marvel and has honored the libraries original founder, Fatima al-Fihri. As it stands, the library, built by a woman , has now been rebuilt by a woman a millennium or so later. @azizachaouniprojects #alqarawiyyinlibrary #culturalheritage #unescosite #unescoheritage #fez

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Khizanat Al Qarawiyyin, University of al-Qarawiyyin, Morocco

Said to be the oldest library in the world, and it was founded by a woman (who run the world, right?). Opened in 859, the library houses 4,000 rare books and manuscripts and was lovingly restored by another woman, Aziza Chaouni.

Get a better look into this library here.


Rampur Raza Library, Rampur, India

The Raza library was established in the late 18th century and is home to many Indo-Islamic treasures, including the first translated manuscript of the Qur’an. Essentially, it’s the kind of library where you can expect to find the staff decked out with those little white gloves.


Biblioteca Palafoxiana, Puebla, Mexico

“He who succeeds without books is in an inconsolable darkness, on a mountain without company, on a path without a crosier, in darkness without a guide.”

So said Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, the bishop of Puebla who donated 5,000 books to the Colegio san Juan in 1646 on the proviso that they be available to anyone who wished to use them.


Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

The Bodleian library epitomises what it means to be British. It’s connected to a duke and is really old. Established in 1602, the Bodleian is one of the oldest libraries in Europe and the second largest in England (second only to The British Library).


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How gorgeous is this library? ⠀ ⠀ Charia one of our brand ambassadors definitely knows how to read. ⁣💁🏼‍♀️⠀This beautiful photograph was taken at the Admont Abbey library in Austria #amustsee😍⠀ ⠀ Find out why Charia loves books and travel through the link in our bio ✨⠀ ⠀⠀ @countryhouselibrary⠀ #countryhouselibrary ⠀ ⠀ ___________________________________________⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ ⠀ ⠀ #travelingtheworld #bookishfeatures #bookstagramfeature #vscophile #beautifuldestinations #wonderful_places #wanderlust #amazinglibraries #library #igreads #instareads #admontabbeylibrary #bookblogger⠀ #goodbooks #bookobsessed #bookshelf #bookaesthetic⁣ ⁣ #booksbooksbooks ⁣#bookaesthetic⁣ #vintagebookshop #bookstagramfeature #bookshelf #bookfeatures⠀

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Admont Abbey Library, Admont, Austria

This library is not only one of the oldest, but one of the most beautiful. It’s a must for Bookstagram bragging rights. It was built in 1776 with seven cupolas containing frescoes by Bartolomeo Altomonte depicting human knowledge as laid out in the Enlightenment. This is the library of dreams.

5 of the Largest Libraries in the World

One day I hope to dedicate a room in my house to floor to ceiling shelves lined with books upon books upon books. Until then, I’ll have to make do with some of the biggest libraries in the world.

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., United States

Items in catalogue: 164 million.


British Library, London and Boston Spa, United Kingdom

Items in catalogue: 150 million.


New York Public Library, New York, United States

Items in catalogue: 55 million.


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It is no secret that “The Secret Bench of Knowledge” is an Ottawa landmark that graces the entrance to a building where you can load up on knowledge. 🤓🧐 ♥️ ♥️ This sculpture created in 1989 is one of Ottawa's most beloved and most photographed works of public art. The artist came one night and simply put this work in front of the building. She later removed it as it was to be part of an exhibition in New York, but Ottawans had already adopted it as an icon of their city. In 1994, a new Secret Bench of Knowledge was unveiled at the same location, before a large crowd of onlookers and media. ♥️ ♥️ The sculpture is engraved with close to 100 handwritten messages about the joy and value of reading, contributed by both writers and people from across Canada. . . . #PublicArt #SecretBenchOfKnowledge #CanadianArt #CanadianArtists #CanadianInspiration #NationalLibrary #LibraryAndArchivesCanada #LeaVivot #395Wellington #395Lac #SecretBench #MyOttawa #Ottawa #Canada

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Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada

Items in catalogue: 54 million.


Russian State Library, Moscow, Russia

Items in catalogue: 44.4 million.


8 of the Most Beautiful Libraries

And because I know that we’re all just doing this for the ‘Gram, the eight most beautiful libraries in the world are:

Mediatheque Sandro Penna, Perugia, Italy

This library opened in 2004 as a pink disk that shines at night. It’s somewhat of a beacon to the neighbourhood it is situated in. A call to arms to come and read.


Wiblingen Abbey Library, Ulm, Germany

Rivalling the Admont Abbey Library in beauty, this is another testament to the beauty of European art and architecture and the love of books and study.


Handelingenkamer, The Hague, Netherlands

The leaded glass dome ceiling that was built for the practicality of letting in light at a time with no electricity is what gives this library its beauty. The light shines down on all four stories, presenting the cast-iron rails and staircase in their full majesty.


National Library of Sejong City, Sejong City, South Korea

The upward arc of this library seems to defy gravity. It opened in 2013 and is a testament to modern design.


Melk Abbey Library, Melk, Austria

Another Abbey library, what more is there to say? The meticulousness of the beauty is enough to hush you before any librarian has a chance to put finger to lips.


Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States

The elliptical glass dome is enough to stop you in your tracks. Beautiful from the outside and inside, this is, to me, one of Chicago’s lesser known gems.


Seattle Central Library, Seattle, Washington, United States

This library is testament to the hidden beauty of glass and steel.

Balme Library, University of Ghana, Accra, Ghana

Not all beauty is majestic. Some is understated but equally spectacular.


9 of the Most Popular Libraries in the World

…So you know which ones to avoid if, like me, you don’t like large crowds and wish for more intimacy with your books.

New York Public Library, New York, New York, United States

Visitors per year: 18 million


Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn, New York, United States

Visitors per year: 8.1 million


National Library of China, Beijing, China

Visitors per year: 5.6 million


State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

Visitors per year: 2 million


Library of Congress, Washington D.C., United States

Visitors per year: 1.9 million


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Today we turn 21! We had our official Royal Opening #onthisday in 1998. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The six-storey glass tower at the heart of the British Library houses the King’s Library. This is a collection of over 85,000 printed books and pamphlets formed by George III, king of Great Britain and Ireland from 1760 to 1820. After George III’s death, the collection was presented to the Nation by his son, George IV. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The British Museum accepted the books and constructed the King’s Library Gallery to accommodate them. Custodianship passed to the new British Library in 1973, and the collection was moved to the purpose-built King’s Library Tower in 1998. Here they are stored in the best possible preservation conditions in terms of temperature, humidity, and light levels.

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British Library, London, United Kingdom

Visitors per year: 1.5 million


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Perspective inside the Royal Library 🔍

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Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen, Denmark

Visitors per year: 1.44 million


Berlin State Library, Berlin, Germany

Visitors per year: 1.4 million


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У меня есть традиция – по возможности, в тех городах где я бываю, заходить в библиотеки, ведь это часто очень и очень красиво. И читальный зал Национальной библиотеки на улице Ришелье в Париже, я уже показывала в прошлый раз, но в этот раз мы тоже зашли полюбоваться ажурной красотой поснимать побольше. . Автор этой красоты – Анри Лабруст – французский архитектор 19-го века, который один из первых осознал важность железных конструкций. В 1840-е годы он создал библиотеку Сорбонны (туда я пока не добралась). И после этого Лабрусту заказали перестройку Национальной библиотеки на улице Ришелье, реконструкция длилась с 1860 по 1868 гг. . Этот комплекс, размещенный во внутреннем дворе дворца Мазарини, состоял из читального зала с крышей из девяти украшенных металлических сводов из железа и стекла, поддерживаемых 16 тонкими колоннами из железа, покрытого гипсом, и многоэтажных стеллажей из чугуна и сварочного железа. . Конструкция читального зала отвечает тем же принципам, которые были уже применены Лабрустом в библиотеке Св. Женевьевы: металлический каркас заключен в оболочку из массивных стен. Высокие стройные колонны: 30 сантиметров в диаметре и почти 10 метров высотой, придают помещению воздушную легкость. Колонны соединены между собой посредством арок полуциркульного очертания, образуя девять легких сводов, напоминающих своды Воспитательного дома во Флоренции работы Брунеллески. Сферические своды выполнены Лабрустом из тонких фаянсовых плит; в центре каждого свода имеется круглое отверстие, как в римском Пантеоне. Таким образом, обеспечивается равномерная освещенность всех столов в читальном зале. . Посмотреть и поснимать читальный зал может любой желающий, совершенно бесплатно, от турникета на входе. . #Nikonrussia #Nikkor #D810 #Nikonlens

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Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, France

Visitors per year: 1.15 million


Bonus: The World’s Smallest Library

Hogsback Library, South Africa

Hogsback Library lies in a small village in the South African mountains and has the most restrictive opening times of any library. It is open 3:00–4:00 pm on a Wednesdays and 9:30-10:30 am Saturdays. I guess I’ll just be over here not complaining about my local library’s opening hours.