Cool Bookish Places

8 Wonderful Libraries to Visit Post-Pandemic

Rachel Rosenberg

Senior Contributor

Rachel Rosenberg has been writing since she was a child—at 13, she was published alongside celebs and fellow teens in Chicken Soup For the Teenage Soul 2. Rachel has a degree in Creative Writing from Montreal’s Concordia University; she’s been published in a few different anthologies and publications, including Best Lesbian Love Stories 2008, Little Fiction, Big Truth’s Re/Coded anthology and Broken Pencil magazine. She also appeared on the Montreal episode of the Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids podcast. Her day job is as a Children’s Librarian, where she digs singing and dancing with small humans.

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang with First Second Books.

In Dragon Hoops, a 2021 Michael L. Printz Honor recipient, New York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang turns the spotlight on his life, his family, and the high school where he teaches. Gene doesn’t get sports. But at the high school where he teaches, it's all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. Step out. Walk tall. Discover your legacy.

There are so many libraries that I would love to visit post-pandemic. I’ve always loved visiting libraries when I travel and, actually, I even have a library card collection for funsies. The variety is compelling: small and nondescript, ornate and wondrous, modern and ancient. Travelling is one of my favourite activities, one of the things I most look forward to in the “After Times”, so hopefully I will be able to explore new places once again. With that post-pandemic yearning in mind, I’ve created this short list of eight stunning and unusual must-visit libraries.

Stiftsbibliothek Admont, Admont, Austria

I desperately want to experience this library firsthand and, while I would probably behave myself inside, I can’t help but feel like that 3D geometric-patterned floor would be very satisfying to dance on. The ornate Baroque architecture, white book cases, and bright pastel murals make my little heart beat faster. This might be my actual dream library full stop. Located alongside a river and near the border of a mountainous national park, this gorgeous space was built in 1776 from designs by architect Joseph Hueber. According to The Guardian, it is the world’s largest monastery library.

Haskell Free Library and Opera House, Rock Island, Quebec, Canada and Derby Line, Vermont, United States

Depending on which entrance you use, you are either in Vermont or Quebec. Therefore, as a Montrealer, I am disappointed that I never knew to visit. However, the Canada-U.S. border is shut right now so this border-straddling space is closed to the public. Also, a cool fact about it is that because it’s partially in Quebec, it has both English and French books and events. The front facade is Victorian, while the back is neo-Classical — I appreciate an architect that just wants it all. Inside, the space is the kind of cozy, library vibe that I love with couches and fireplaces. The connected opera house is embellished with cherubs, murals, and other whimsical touches. Moreover, generations of music and theatre performers have played in the space and even scrawled their still-preserved signatures on the dressing room walls.

Rampur Raza Library, Rampur, India

This facade of this 1904 building is gasp-worthy. It wasn’t always a library, and the reason that it looks like a mansion is that is its initial use. This was built to house the personal collection of Nawab Faizullah Khan, the founder of Rampur. During the 1950s, the space was shifted into use as a library. The collection now contains historical books and manuscripts including Islamic calligraphy, astronomical instruments, and rare illustrated works in Arabic and Persian languages.

My Tree House Library, Singapore

Unveiled in 2013, this would have broken my brain as a child. (And, to be honest, also as an adult.) Despite being the world’s least outdoorsy human, I’ve a lifelong yearning for a tree house experience that this library would fulfill. It’s the first fully eco-friendly library in the world, using LED lighting and low VOC paints and adhesives. Then there is the whimsical tree-house centerpiece, created with recyclable materials; atop the big ol’ tree stump is a green and yellow plastic bottle canopy. So cool.

Real Gabinete Português de Leitura (Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Even its name makes you feel like you are somewhere really special — a cabinet of reading sounds straight-up magical. And it is — check out photos online of its stained glass windows, wooden arches, and blue ceiling. Just above the reading room’s study tables are the three-story high book collection. The shelves and shelves of multicoloured spines will make all book nerds drool. Founded by a group of Portuguese immigrants wanting to preserve their culture, it’s the largest collection of Portuguese works outside Portugal. Constructed between 1880 and 1887, Rafael da Silva e Castro designed a library still going strong, as according to a post on Atlas Obscura, the collection receives 6,000 new titles a year and continues towards 400,000 volumes.

Iwaki Museum of Picture Books for Children, Iwaki City, Japan

Based on my not hidden love of picture books, I’d love to visit this children’s library in Iwaki City, Japan. Aesthetically, the outfacing pictures book look rad, easily showcasing the collection’s many titles from around the world. Tadao Ando designed it to be colourful, warm, and airy, with walls of books propped against wooden staircases and hanging walkways. Built in 2005, it’s in use by three pre-schools Monday–Thursday, but on Fridays it is freely open to the public.

Boston Public Library, Boston, United States

I’ve never been to Boston, and their central library seems like great motivation. Founded in 1848, it is the third-largest public library in the U.S. after the Library of Congress and The New York Public Library. Located in Copley Square, the McKim and Johnson buildings make up the central branch. The McKim building, designed by Charles Follen McKim in 1895, houses the research collection, exhibition rooms and administrative offices. Artwise, there are murals, a beautiful open-air courtyard, and many statues. The library’s circulating collection is in the more modern Johnson building, designed by Philip Johnson in the late 1960s to early ’70s.

Biblioteca Sandro Penna, Perugia, Italy

Maybe this 2004 structure appeals to me because it looks like a flying saucer and I’m on a real Roswell rewatch kick. Or, maybe I just really dig its jaunty pink colour. Lit up and seen from above, it’s like a cute little red mushroom. The pink glasswork bathes the inside space in a pinkish glow, look up pictures because it is very cool. Conceived by architect Italo Rota and named for Sandro Penna, a Perugian poet, the space traveller vibes make it as sweet a visit for tourists as it is for local users.

So there you go, suggestions for libraries to visit post-pandemic. While I don’t know when I’ll be safely able to go, these travel goals will tide me over. In fact, this list could have included many more incredible structures, as this is just the tip of the library-shaped iceberg. I can’t wait to see more.