By Melissa Maypole
As repositories of the world’s collective knowledge (literally!), libraries are inherently beautiful places. Even so, it’s human nature to compare, and after all, not all public libraries are created equally. To choose the very best, our editors researched hundreds of libraries across the globe to find the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring. They also considered other factors such as innovative design, sustainability, historical significance, and architectural awards. The result is the following list of the 50 most beautiful public libraries in the world.
State Library Victoria
The State Library Victoria is one of the largest exhibiting libraries in the world. One of its most well-known features is the Domed Reading Room designed by Norman G. Peebles. Capable of holding over one million books and 600 visitors, the reading room is shaped like an octagon and is 34.75 meters in both height and diameter. Various statues pepper the front lawn of the library (which is a favorite lunch spot for residents) including the likeness of Joan of Arc.
Troy Public Library
Troy, New York USA
Troy Public Library, built in 1897, is part of the Central Troy Historic District and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building was designed by New York City architects J. Stewart Barney and Henry Otis Chapman and was lauded as an early and distinguished version of the American Renaissance style. Notable features include the west and south walls of the library, which are made of Vermont marble, the stone parapet on the top of the building, and the balustrade over the entrance.
Stuttgart City Library
Designed to be the center of a new cultural district in Mailander Platz, Stuttgart City Library is a 9-story building shaped like a cube with each edge spanning 45 meters. The building’s façade is made of a 9×9 grid of frosted glass bricks, giving it a reflective appearance. The building’s white interior is both modern and minimalist, features that make it appear almost futuristic. At the heart of the building is a beautiful meditative space complete with a fountain and lit glass ceiling.
The Braddock Carnegie Library
Named a National Historic Landmark in 2012, the Braddock Carnegie Library is the first Carnegie Library in the United States. The library was first designed in eclectic Medieval style by architect William Halsey Wood. An addition in 1893 not only doubled the size of the original building, but also lent it a more Richardson Romanesque style, thanks to the architectural firm of Longfellow, Alden, and Harrow. A testament to its impressive aesthetics, the library has been used as a backdrop for several popular film scenes.
Austrian National Library
With 7.4 million items in its catalog, Austrian National Library in Vienna is the largest library in Austria. At the center of the library is its most impressive room, the State Hall, referred to as the Prunksaal. The domed hall features breathtaking frescoes, floor to ceiling bookcases, and sculptures created by Italian sculptor Lorenzo Mattielli. The marble statues, credited to Peter and Paul Strudel, depict emperors, including the centerpiece statue of Charles VI. The library is also home to four beautiful museums.
Boston Public Library
Boston, Massachusetts USA
With over 23.7 million items in collection, the Boston Public Library is one of the largest public library systems in America. When it was built in 1895, architect Charles Follen McKim called it his “palace for the people.” Known as the McKim building, this initial structure houses fine murals and a collection of rare books and manuscripts as well as a restaurant, café, inner courtyard, and several reading areas. The National Park Service has named it a National Historic Landmark and recognizes it as an outstanding example of Renaissance Beaux-Arts Classicism.
Vancouver Central Library
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
The Vancouver Central Library is often described as reminiscent of Rome’s Colosseum, but it was actually designed by Moshe Safdie, the same architect who is credited for the Salt Lake City Public Library (also on our list). The seven-story building is located in the massive Library Square, which occupies an entire block in the eastern part of the city. The building’s most notable features include a curved, colonnaded wall and an internal glass façade.
New York Public Library
New York, New York USA
As the second largest public library in the United States (the Library of Congress is the first), the New York Public Library houses nearly 53 million items. Architects from the firm of Carrere and Hastings were chosen to design the library in the early 1900s and what resulted was the largest marble structure ever constructed in the U.S. Today, the library serves approximately 18 million patrons per year and receives visitors from over 200 different countries. Replicas of the library can be found at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Singapore.
South London, England
Designed by architects Aslop and Stormer, the Peckam Library won the Stirling Prize for Architecture in 2000, the same year it was officially opened to the public. The inverted “L” shaped building boasts a colorful exterior made of copper and colored glass and has a playful, modern feel. Inside, the library features a reading room overlooking the streets of London and several “pods” dedicated to various library programs and functions. Sustainability was a key focus for the library’s design as observed from its natural lighting and ventilation systems.
San Diego Central Library
San Diego, California USA
San Diego Central Library is an enormous 9-story, 492,500 foot structure featuring an outdoor plaza, a 3-story domed reading room, café, an art gallery, and a sculpture garden. Construction of the $184.9 million building was completed in late 2013, making it one of the newer and more modern libraries on our list. The most striking attribute of the library is its steel lattice dome, which architect Rob Wellington Quigley says is meant to be a defining symbol for the city.
Seattle Central Library
Seattle, Washington USA
Located in downtown Seattle, Seattle Central Library was opened to the public in 2004, and in 2007, it was voted one of America’s “150 favorite structures in the US” by the American Institute of Architects. The striking glass and steel building is famous for its “floating” platforms and interior Book Spiral, which spirals through four flours of the library and features the entire nonfiction collection. Aside from aesthetics, Seattle Central Library is also a sustainable structure and holds a silver LEED rating.
Jose Vasconcelos Library
Mexico City, Mexico
Designed by Mexican architect Alberto Kalach, the Jose Vasconselos Library was inaugurated by President Vicente Fox in 2006 who called it one of the most advanced constructions of the 21st century. The ark-like structure is surrounded on all sides by a botanical garden (which the designer envisioned as a sort of living library), giving the interior reading rooms a more intimate feel. Several sculptures created by famous Mexican artists adorn the building, including Gabriel Orozco’s Ballena.
The Morgan Library
Manhattan, New York USA
Designed in the Classical Revival style by architect Charles McKim, the Morgan Library was originally the private library of banker J.P.Morgan but was deemed a public institution in 1924 at the request of his will. Its façade is constructed from Tennessee marble and features a Palladian arch entrance adorned by two lionesses. Inside, the most impressive feature of the library is its domed rotunda with murals and plasterwork inspired by Raphael. The library was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and now doubles as a museum.
Cerritos Millennium Library
Cerritos, California USA
As its name implies, the Cerritos Millennium Library was designed to look and feel futuristic. Its titanium panels and curved, flowing exterior are intended to represent the ever-changing technological advancements that characterize life in the 21st century. Featuring interactive learning stations and inspirational artwork throughout the interior space, the library has been called the world’s first “Experience Library.” It has received the esteemed Award of Excellence from the American Library Association and the American Institute of Architects.
National Library of France
Designed by French architect Dominique Perrault, the National Library of France is comprised of four glittering towers, which manage to be simultaneously monumental and minimalist. In contrast to traditional French architecture, the buildings replace frivolous adornments with practical elements of steel, glass, and natural wood. The towers, which are each 24 stories, are shaped like open books. Inside, modern but comfortable reading rooms overlook an interior courtyard and garden. Its capacity makes it one of the largest libraries in the world.
Indianapolis Central Library
Located in the heart of downtown, Indianapolis Central Library is the flagship library of the Indianapolis public library system. The library was built in 1917 and features a Greek Doric style designed by architect Paul Cret. Impressive Greek columns frame the entrance to the building, which is made of classic Indiana limestone on a base of Vermont marble. In 2007, renovations to the library included the addition of a six-story glass structure designed by Woolen, Molzan, and Partners and located behind the original building.
State Library of New South Wales
New South Wales, Australia
Built in 1826, the State Library of New South Wales is the oldest library in Australia. The building has undergone several major renovations over the years, including the addition of the Mitchell Building in 1942, featuring bronze doors, a portico, and an ornate vestibule. The Macquarie Street Building was added in 1983 under the direction of architect Andrew Andersons and was renovated in 2012 to create space for new education programs. It now has over 5 million items in collection.
Burton Barr Central Library
Phoenix, Arizona USA
The Burton Barr Central Library is the main branch for the Phoenix public library system and was named for Burton Barr, the Republic Majority Leader in the Arizona House of Representatives from 1966 to 1986. The building, completed in 1955 under the direction of architects Will Bruder and DWL Architects, is a 5-story glass and steel structure with over 700,000 items in collection. It has received a silver LEED designation and was chosen as one of the Phoenix Points of Pride in 2008.
State Library of South Australia
Adelaide, South Australia
The State Library of South Australia is the largest public research library in the state of South Australia and is located in the North Terrace Cultural Precinct. The library is comprised of three buildings: the original Institute Building built in 1861, the Mortlock Wing designed in 19th century Victorian style, and the new, modern Catherine Helen Spence Wing, an award winning structure featuring a symbolic glass foyer and a Treasures Wall that showcases some of the library’s most impressive collections.
Southfield Public Library
Southfield, Michigan USA
The new Southfield Public Library building opened in 2003. The structure is comprised of over 127,000 square feet and houses 250 individual computer stations. Its most notable feature is its 65-foot glass tower. The library’s children’s department has been recognized as one of the most dramatic in the world, featuring statues inspired by Dr. Suess and telephones that read stories aloud on demand. Several gardens surround the building, including the Children’s Imaginarium Garden and the Fountain Terrace Garden.
Formerly the Centennial Library, the Millennium Library was renovated in 2005, an undertaking which resulted in a 40,000 square foot addition, including the addition of a fourth floor, a reading terrace, and a cascading staircase. The structure has since won several architectural awards including the Canadian Architect Award of Excellence, the Prairie Design Award, and the Governor General’s Medal in Architecture.
The Palafoxiana Library was the first public library in colonial Mexico and is sometimes considered the first in the Americas as well. Founded in 1646, the library now holds over 41,000 items including some rare books and manuscripts. Carved wooden doors, oil paintings, and fine leather furniture preserve the Old World feel of the library’s interior. In 2005, the library was placed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.
National Library of China
With over 31 million items in collection, the National Library of China is the largest library in Asia and among the largest in the world. The library was renovated in 2008 to give it a more contemporary feel but still maintains many elements of traditional Chinese architecture such as a prominent roof, the use of pillars and floating ceilings. Among its most notable collections is a copy of the Siku Quanshu, or in English, the Complete Library of the Four Branches of Literature.
Parkway Central Library
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA
Parkway Central Library is the main branch and administrative headquarters for the Free Library of Pennsylvania system. The library was designed by architect Horace Trumbauer in the Classical Revival style and was opened to the public in 1927 after nearly two decades of planning and construction. A 2012 renovation of the library gave it a contemporary lift with energy efficient lighting and technology updates, yet the building remains true to its Beaux Arts origins, with intricate ceilings and the original terrazzo floors.
Ottawa Public Library, Beaverbrook Branch
Founded in 1906 by a donation from the Carnegie Foundation, the Ottawa Public Library is the largest bilingual library in North America, with both French and English collections. Its Beaverbrook Branch recently underwent a $10 million renovation, which resulted in an award-winning new design. The building’s tall, transparent windows give it a welcoming feel as does the massive concrete mural designed by local artist Chris Griffin. Just this year, the Beaverbrook Branch received the Library Building Award from the Ontario Library Association.
Los Angeles Central Library
Los Angeles, California USA
Designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, the Los Angeles Central Library was constructed in 1926 by architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. Goodhue’s design was influenced by ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival architecture as demonstrated by the mosaic pyramid atop the central tower of the library. Inside the library is Dean Cornwell’s four-part mural, which tells the history of California. Today, the library has nearly 89 miles of books across 538,000 square feet.
Bristol Central Library
Designed in 1902 by architect Charles Holden, the Bristol Public Library has been called a masterpiece of early modern design. A medley of architectural styles, the building has an ornate façade described as a blend of Tudor Revival and Modern Movement styles meant to complement the Abbey Gatehouse next door. Inside, the style is more reminiscent of the Neoclassical, featuring arched vaulting, eclectic marble floors, and a striking turquoise mosaic.
Sacramento City Library
Sacremento, California USA
Commonly referred to as Central Branch, the Sacramento City Library is a three-story building designed by San Francisco architect Loring P. Rixford in Italian Renaissance Revival style. Although it has been modernized since its construction in 1918, it has maintained much of its original aesthetic. In 1992, the library was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
National Library of St. Mark’s
Also called the Old Library, the National Library of St. Mark’s was officially named after St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice and designed by architect Jacopo Sansovino. Today, the library holds one of the greatest classical text collections in the world as well as illuminated manuscripts and rare texts such as operas by Francesco Cavalli, sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, and the last will of explorer Marco Polo.
Salt Lake City Public Library
Salt Lake City, Utah USA
Opened to the public in 2003, the Salt Lake City Public Library is a five-story wedge shaped building featuring a signature curved wall of glass on its outer façade. Other notable features include a rooftop garden, three glass elevators, a spiral staircase, and an art gallery. In 2006, Salt Lake City Public Library received the Library of the Year Award from the Library Journal. It is also home to what may be the largest graphic novel collection in the world.
Halifax Central Library
Halifax, Novia Scotia
Having just opened to the public in 2014, Halifax Central Library is one of the most modern buildings on our list. Comprised of four stacked glass boxes, which have been described as a stack of books, the library has been hailed as an architectural wonder. CNN called it one of the ten most “eye-popping” buildings of 2014, and it has been shortlisted to receive the World Building of the Year Award at the 2015 World Architecture Festival in Singapore. Some notable features include a solar atrium at the heart of the building as well as a rooftop terrace overlooking the downtown area.
Berkeley Public Library
Berkeley, California USA
First established in 1895 with a donation from Andrew Carnegie, the Berkeley Public Library’s main branch was demolished and replaced with a larger, more modern building in 1930. The new building, designed by architect James Plachek, exemplifies Art Deco style and features cement plaster chevrons and ram’s head pilaster caps. The building is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Allahabad Public Library
Also known as Thornhill Mayne Memorial, Allahabad Public Library was established in 1864 and designed by architect Richard Roskell Bayne in Scottish Baronial style. The building’s most striking features, aside from its colorful exterior, are the lofty towers, angular pillars, and granite turrets. Today, the library holds over 125,000 books, magazines, and newspapers in addition to its collection of old manuscripts and journals.
The Library of Birmingham
A replacement for the now closed Central Library, the Library of Birmingham is a glittering, translucent building that serves as a beacon of knowledge for the surrounding community. Designed to be a cultural hub, the library houses a media center, a children’s library, a community health center, and the iconic Shakespeare Memorial Room, which sits perched atop the building in a gilded rotunda. The Architect’s Journal named the structure the Building of the Year in 2013.
The National Library of Chile
Commissioned in honor of the first centenary of the Independence of Chile, construction of the National Library of Chile began in 1913. The design was to be of French Neoclassical style as demonstrated by its grand entrance featuring lofty columns and arches. Just as impressive is the interior of the building with its marbled floors and carved staircases. The building also houses sculptures and paintings by local artists, including classic figures such as Alfredo Helsby and Arturo Gordon.
Harold Washington Library
Harold Washington Library is the main branch of the Chicago public library system. A monumental building with red brick exterior and a triangular pediment embellished with gargoyle-like owls and foliage, the building is one that citizens and tourists either love or hate, but can’t help but notice. The building was honored by the American Institute of Architects as one of America’s Favorite Architecture in 2007, but has also been dubbed one of the World’s Ugliest Buildings by Travel & Leisure magazine.
National Library of Sweden
The roots of the National Library of Sweden go back as far as the 16th century, but its current building designed by Gustaf Dahl wasn’t built until 1878. It has received several additions and renovations over the years, including the most recent remodeling in the spring of 1997. Today, the National Library of Sweden has over 18 million items in its collection, including over seven million hours of recordings.
Minneapolis Central Library
Hennepin County, Minnesota USA
Minneapolis Central Library is the largest branch of the Hennepin County public library system. Designed in 2006 by architect Cesar Pelli, the 353,000 square foot structure houses a collection of over 2.4 million items. At a cost of $140 million, the library features a roof garden, an atrium, and over 300 Internet-connected computers for public use. The focal point of the building is the “winged” roof that extends over neighboring streets. In 2009, it received the Library Building Award from the American Library Association.
Toronto Reference Library
Formerly the Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library, the Toronto Reference Library changed its name when it became a part of the Toronto public library system in 1998. The five-story building was designed by architect Raymond Moriyama in 1977 and is now the largest reference library in Canada. Influenced by the hanging garden of Babylon, the library is centered around a curving atrium, which allows natural lighting in from the overhead skylights. Of special note is the library’s Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, a tribute to the life and work of the Sherlock Holmes creator.
Public Library Amsterdam, Central Branch
Designed by the former state architect of the Netherlands Jo Coenen in 2007, the Central Branch of the Amsterdam Public Library is designed to be both contemporary and ecofriendly with a unique system of air circulation that draws from the outdoors. Inside, visitors will find all sorts of commodities including a theater, a radio station, a reader’s café, study pods, and 600 Internet-connected computers. The library attracts approximately 2 million visitors per year and was selected as the best library in the Netherlands in 2012.
Connemara Public Library
Established in 1896 as one of four national depositories of India, Connemara Public Library is known as the pride of Chennai. Designed by H. Irvin, who served as the Consulting Architect of the Government of Madras, the building exemplifies a unique Indo-Saracenic style. An addition to the library in 1973 brought many new features, including a Braille Library, a reference room, a periodicals hall, and a desperately needed textbook section. The library now houses a collection of over 600,000 books.
Library of Alexandria
Located on the Mediterranean, the Library of Alexandria was inaugurated in 2002 after seven years of construction. Its most striking feature is its glass paneled roof that juts out toward the sea, which some say symbolizes the Egyptian sun bringing light to the world. Countries from all over the globe donated books to the trilingual library, which contains collections in Arabic, English, and French. In addition, the building is home to four museums, four art galleries, a planetarium, and a manuscript restoration lab.
Berlin State Library
The Berlin State Library is the largest research library in Germany and home to the majority of Bach’s works as well as the Mozart operas and many of Beethoven’s symphonies. It was designed by architect Hans Scharoun with contributions from Edgar Wisniewski and opened to the public in 1978. Today, the library operates from two major sites, earning it the moniker “Library in Two Homes.”
National Library of Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The National Library of Brazil is the largest library in Latin America with a collection of over 9 million items. Its origins can be traced back to Prince Regent who issued a decree for the funding of a royal library in 1910. The regal building now houses the renowned Teresa Cristina Maria photograph collection, which has been placed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme Register for its historic significance.
Taipei Public Library Beitou Branch
Opened to the public in 2006, the Beitou branch of the Taipei Public Library is Tawain’s first eco-friendly library and one of the most eco-friendly structures in East Asia. The building is made entirely from wood, a refreshing break from the concrete buildings of the city. Its roof is covered in photovoltaic cells, which allow it to convert sunlight into electricity. Large windows make use of natural light and give the interior rooms an airy feel.
National Royal Library
The largest library in the Nordic countries, the National Royal Library is home to nearly all recognized Danish texts, including the first known Danish book printed in 1842. The building is made of black marble and glass, a feature which earned it the nickname “The Black Diamond.” Formed from two giant cubes connected by an eight-story atrium, the structure has transparent glass walls, giving visitors a view of the sea.
Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan
Perhaps the most innovate library on our list, the Sendai Mediatheque was designed by architect Toyo Ito to resemble a giant transparent cube. Each of the six stories of the building is made from a steel-ribbed stab, which appear to float up from the street. The transparency of the building allows it to reflect the changing seasons and creates an airy atmosphere. Inside the space, visitors will find not only books, but a café, a retail shop, and a theatre as well.
National Library of the Czech Republic
The National Library of the Czech Republic is located in beautiful Clementinum, a building complex dedicated to Saint Clement in the 11th century. The building is designed after the Baroque architectural style. Inside the Library hall, visitors will find tall wooden columns, oversized globes, and beautiful ceiling frescoes created by Jan Hiebl. The library holds nearly 7 million total items in collection, including 21,204 manuscripts and 4,200 incunabula.
Bishan Community Library
Designed by LOOK Architects, the Bishan Community Library in Singapore was constructed in 2005. The unique building design was inspired by the idea of a treehouse, with inhabitable cubes jutting out from the façade of the building, creating private reading areas inside for visitors. The library received local and international recognition for its architectural innovation, including the President’s Design Award in 2007 and the International Architecture Award in 2009.
Hong Kong Central Library
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Opened to the public in 2001, the Hong Kong Central Library is the largest library in Hong Kong. The 12-story building spanning over 100,000 square feet houses 2.3 million items in collection. The design, which was controversial upon its proposal, features an arched doorway representing the “Gate to Knowledge.” Special features of the library include a café, a gift shop, a children’s multimedia room, and a cafeteria.