Scant months ago much of new media was lamenting the death of books as e-readers took the world by storm. Though the e-book is still around, with plenty of Kindle options out there, as well as other readers and tablets, most bibliophiles are rapidly returning to physical books as their weapon of choice in the word wars. Studies have shown the mind retains more when it reads it off a page rather than a screen, books have a far more satisfying feel than even the best e-readers, and then there’s the scent and the life that only a book can have.
As books return to their former glory, so too have libraries found themselves once again in demand, with patrons returning in droves, casting aside their Nooks and Fire tablets to again disappear into the stacks where the Dewey Decimal System still holds sway. Though we hope the books will one day find a way to exist without killing trees, today we celebrate them with photos of the 21 most stunning libraries in the world. Buildings of fantasy that hold entire universes betwixt covers.
Boston Public Library
Carrying a modest 23 million items, Boston’s public library is the 2nd largest in the United States. The architecture is inspired by Italian works, with frescos at every turn and arches for ages. As stunning as the interior is, it’s nothing compared to the courtyard.
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
An archival offshoot of the Yale University Library, this is the largest building dedicated to the preservation of unusual books and rare materials to be found anywhere on the planet. Marble, granite, and bronze make up the building, with specialized windows that display unique works without causing them damage.
Central Library in Seattle
Finished in 2004, the progressive city of Seattle wanted this to be a reimagination of the standard library. A place for books, but also a multimedia experience that permits access to information and art in every form, it’s the future as seen by Rem Koolhass.
Trinity College Dublin Library
The biggest collection of books in Ireland, the Dublin Library was originally designed with a flat roof, but was later raised to accommodate more books. Dark wood and marble throughout, one need only see the “Long Room” to be dazzled.
Sainte-Geneviève Library in Paris
Architect Henri Labrouste finished the Sainte-Geneviève in the middle of the 19th century, but it’s iron arches have proved to be timeless. It’s even caught the attention of the Museum of Modern Art, which officially called it a “temple of knowledge and a space for contemplation.”
Gold accents and spiral pillars add a sense of opulence to this den of information in one of the best-preserved cities in the western world. Finished in 1722, it has been updated over the years to include a ceiling by Jan Hiebl that adds a contemplative air to the rich surroundings.
George Peabody Library
Johns Hopkins is known for scientific achievements and advances in medicine much more than artistry or mechanics, but looking at the Peabody you’d never know it. Floor to ceiling Greek revival, it’s delicate latticework at the top and dense columns below.
New York Public Library
The Rose Reading Room alone stretches two city blocks in a town where every square inch of real estate is worth hundreds of dollars. Add in the marble of this iconic landmark and the 53 million volumes contained inside and it’s proof that knowledge is where power lies.
Stuttgart City Library
Opened in 2011, the minimalism of Stuttgart is proof that ornamentalism isn’t required for beauty to be attained. Looking for all the world like an Escher painting given life, it’s pristine cleanliness and striking lines speak of efficiency intersecting with aesthetics.
Royal Portuguese Reading Room
Most think of Christ the Redeemer when they think of Rio de Janeiro, but bookworms know that the Portuguese Reading Room is even more remarkable to behold. A Neo-Manueline interior combines swooping balustrades with a multi-colored skylight for a play of shadow that dances on as the day wears away.
Austrian National Library
Once the lair of rulers, the former Hofburg Palace now is home to 7.4 million literary works which are accented by statues by Paul Strudel, a massive fresco on the dome painted by Daniel Gran, all surrounded by the architecture of Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and his son Johann Emanuel.
Iowa State Capitol Law Library
There’s much more than corn to be seen in the heartland of America. Completed in the late 1800’s, the Capitol Law Library of Des Moines is a Renaissance transplant filled with five stories of legal precedent interconnected by spiral iron staircases wending around ash and chestnut wood.
Abbey Library of Saint Gall
Getting lost in the Rococo hall done by architect Peter Thumb doesn’t even require opening a page. Easily the greatest Baroque work done anywhere in Switzerland, this Carolingian monastery has items that date back to the 8th century, if you can pull your eyes away from the decor.
Philological Library, Free University of Berlin
Known colloquially as “The Berlin Brain” due to its bulbous, undulating layout, it’s best to witness this glorious work at night when the lights create an unusual checkerboard pattern with soft, sultry glows that make reading easy on the eyes.
Part of the current work to gentrify and modernize Mexico, the Vasconcelos took a swatch of dead land and turned it into a hall of learning. Military precision cuts the sections of the library apart while integrating it with botanical gardens for a mixture of the contemporary and the transcendental.
Though reminiscent of Renaissance styles, much of the inspiration for the creation of the Handelingenkamer came from China, so says architect C.H. Peters. Red, gold, and green adorn every surface like a Spring Festival parade in Hong Kong, complete with dragonheads at every turn.
State Library of New South Wales
Daunting skylights dapple the sandstone reading room with light, showing off the volumes as well as the immense collection of Australiana relics that have been donated to the library over the years. Notable for being the largest building of its kind on the Australian continent, it is doubtlessly the center for learning in much of Oceania.
Oxford’s Codrington Library has been gutted and redesigned again and again, each time attempting to update and enhance the interior without disturbing the innate beauty. As English as beans on toast it’s a fine enmeshment of old and new as you’re likely to find.
The Library of El Escorial
Officially a World Heritage Site, the striking frescoes on the ceiling bear scenes from each of the 7 liberal arts: arithmetic, astronomy, dialectic, geometry, grammar, music, and rhetoric. A gift to Spain from Phillip II, it’s a wonder merely to walk its chambers.
Wiblingen Monastery Library
Colorful, bright, and bursting with vivacity, it’s difficult to imagine this is a monastic library since the Rococo style revels in playfulness. Between the ceiling paintings of Franz Martin Kühn and the decorations of Christian Wiedemann, there’s hardly time to look at the books.
Library of Congress
Neoclassical in style, this is not only the largest library in the world both by sheer number of volumes and shelf space, but one of the most striking. Started largely by Thomas Jefferson who contributed many of his own works, including his Qur’an, perusing the stacks is a history lesson unto itself.