10 Bucket-List Libraries You Must Visit Once In Your Lifetime

10 Bucket-List Libraries You Must Visit Once In Your Lifetime

Calling out all bibliophiles! You'll love these libraries around the world! Admire the architecture, touch the bookshelves, smell the books...

Bibliophiles like myself always make the library or bookshops of a country one of our must-see attractions. What better way than to spend your time in a foreign country sniffing around old books, vintage finds (yes, they do exist even for books), or perhaps even imagining the generations of people before you actually touching and reading the very book you hold right now in your hands?

Libraries and bookstores are to bibliophiles as Primark and outlet stores are to shopaholics, or Old Trafford is to Manchester United die-hards.

So to all book-lovers who relish a quiet afternoon in your hectic and busy travelling schedule, take note of all these libraries!

1. Stadtbibliothek, Stuttgart, Germany

Photo Credit: Misterfarmer

This cubed-shaped library definitely lives up to its reputation—it’s garnered many mentions and features in the many lists of “most beautiful libraries in the world” floating around on the World Wide Web. And just look at it.

So white. So pristine. So… minimal.

It just gives you the impression that the books here are THE only important point here; the many volumes against the white background gives the library its pop of colour. Plus, it helps that all the shelves are against the walls, freeing up so much more floor space for walking, sitting cross-legged, or even lounging around.

2. Biblioteca Vasconcelos, Mexico City, Mexico

Photo Credit: Diego Delso

Named after José Vasconcelos, a philosopher, politician, and a huge advocate of reading, the library is a structure of glass and concrete. Spanning a total area of 38,000 square metres, its sheer size has led the local press to label it as the Megabiblioteca (megalibrary). That amounts to nearly 400 4-room HDB flats in Singapore. I’ll just let that sink in for a minute.

Because of the material used to make the floors and shelves, the shelves look as though they’re hanging in mid-air. But stable and sturdy they are, so don’t worry about anything dropping through the glass floors and landing on your head. If you’re one for the industrial look, this library would be a great place for you to sit and chill.

Photo Credit: Diego Delso

It also has a resident skeleton, er, I mean sculpture, located at the entrance of the library, affectionately and very aptly named Ballena (Whale). It looks more like a fossil of a skeleton to me, but that’s probably testament to the sculptor’s prowess.

3. Liyuan Library, Beijing, China

Photo Credit: Li Xiaodong

Nestled in the nearby mountains, just off a small village outside the capital city of the biggest country, there is a library that is one with nature. And it has been drawing crowds from all over, urban locals from Beijing looking for a quiet getaway, international visitors, etc.

Winner of the inaugural Moriyama RAIC International Prize in 2014, the library is entirely made of wood—timber beams for its frame, firewood for its walls, and wooden planks for platform flooring that serve as seating areas and shelf space. The smell of fresh wood and books… Mmmmmm. I could stay in there for an entire week!

And despite it looking relatively technologically rustic, the architect managed to work in an integrated cooling system which draws cold air from the surface of a nearby lake in summer and channels it to the building, thus keeping it cool in summer. And nearly all material involved in the building of this library can be recycled. Talk about environmentally-friendly and aesthetically pleasing. This library obviously takes the cake.

4. Benediktinerstift Admont, Admont Abbey, Austria

Photo credit: Konrad Rainer

Photo Credit: Jorge Royan

Pictures are worth a thousand words, and here are two for your viewing pleasure. Need I even say more? I do? Okay then.

The largest monastic library in the world is located in the oldest remaining Benedictine monastery in Styria, Admont Abbey. It also houses one of the largest collections of works of art of the late European Baroque period in its museums. This is besides the 200 000 volumes, which includes 1400 manuscripts, the earliest from the 8th century, and 530 incunabula, books printed before the 15th century, that call the library home. The 70-metre long, 14-metre wide library hall was built in 1776, containing 7 cupolas showing frescoes of the various stages of knowledge attainment by humanity.

And the pictures speak for themselves, don’t they? I can just imagine hundreds of princesses dancing around the huge hall, each sparkling in their full-bodied silk gowns and jewellery. Straight out of a Disney movie! Even if you’re not of the Benedictine faith, or any other faith for that matter, the gilded gold and white-themed library hall itself is definitely worth a visit!

5. New York Public Library, New York, U.S.A

Photo Credit: Sreejithk2000

Photo Credit: Noticing New York

Does anyone remember this scene in The Day After Tomorrow, when Jake Gyllenhaal and gang started burning books in the fireplace so they could wait the snowstorm out?

Okay please don’t freak out my fellow bibliophiles, that didn’t actually happen in real life, or at least I hope so. What I mean to say is that scene was filmed in the Rose Reading Room of New York Public Library (NYPL), fourth largest in the world, and indubitably one of the most famous public libraries in the world.

Also read: Kansas City Public Library – the Library Built Entirely of Books

Photo Credit: Mike

In fact, many films have used the Rose Reading Room at NYPL as a filming location, and that comes as no surprise, considering its vastness and impressive interior. Its success in the cinematic world aside, the library itself is a well-known treasure trove of information and research for academics, with more than 51 million items in its catalogue—physical books, e-books, audios, DVDs, and academic journals. It is, without a doubt, one of the A-list celebrities in the world of learning and knowledge institutions.

6. Musashino Art University Library, Tokyo, Japan

Photos Credit: yoxito

“Books, shelves, light, and beautiful places.” That’s what Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto had in mind when he designed the library to be made only from bookcases and a glass exterior. And beautiful it is. The entire frame and walls of the library are made of wooden bookcases, ceiling to floor.  The books themselves are arranged in a spiral, resulting in a perfect combination of searchability and strollability for library goers who are there to browse at leisure. If you ask me, I think it also gives the feeling of being cocooned and isolated in a world of books, à la sponge rolls. Layer after layer of books… *floating off into the book-o-sphere*

Right. Where was I? Oh yes.

This spiral theme continues throughout the library, eventually surrounding the perimeter of the site, achieving the effect of making the bookcases look as though they double up as the external walls of the library. Simplistic in nature, but imagine the thought that went into it! Amazing.

Photo Credit: Park

7. Librije Zutphen, Gelderland, Netherlands

Photo Credit: Jenny Weston

If the browsing area in this 16th century library looks more like the pews of a church than anything else, that’s because it is situated in a church—the St. Walburga Church. One of the 5 remaining intact chained libraries in the world, Librije Zutphen gives modern library goers a great insight into the public libraries of the medieval ages. Rampant theft and the difficulty of reproducing tomes—all of them were handwritten back then—meant that medieval public libraries back then had to literally chain their books to the now ancient reading desks.  I don’t know if we’ll actually be able to understand, or even decipher the writing on these books, but hey, you’ve gotta admit, how often can you say you’ve been to a library that chained its books like suspects in a police station?

Photo Credit: Jenny Weston

And if you go to the other 4 chained libraries in England and Italy, such as Hereford Cathedral in England, you’ll see that they even had to chain them to the bookshelves. Makes for a slightly terrifying and prison-like atmosphere for a visit to a library, huh?

Also read: Chained Library of Zutphen – the Last of its Kind

8. Taipei Public Library Beitou Branch, Taipei, Taiwan

Photo Credit: KaurJMeb

Sequestered in a quiet, serene corner just a short walk away from the metro station is a building of wood and glass that seems to blend in with the surrounding trees and greenery at first glance. But as you approach this 3-floor building, you realise that it looks more and more like a great place for studying and introspective “ME” time. The Beitou branch of the Taipei Public Library is just that. Away from the hustle and bustle of the capital city of Taiwan, the library is a hot favourite with students and city-dwellers looking for a quiet and calm environment to collect their thoughts. Readers can grab a book from the shelves, lounge in one of the alfresco chairs placed at the peripheral balcony on any of the 3 floors, and read to their heart’s content.

The green library, first of its kind to be certified as a “green building”, has also become somewhat of a tourist attraction, as it is conveniently located along the walking route towards the geo-thermal valley and hot springs Beitou is famous for. It helps that it is only a short train ride away from the heart of Taipei.

If you ever need an escape from the stresses of city living or travelling, this is the one-stop shop. Head for the Beitou branch library, read for a bit, then continue on to the public hot spring in the area, for a day of relaxation and rejuvenation!

9. Villanueva Public Library, Casanare, Columbia

Photo Credit: Dezeen Magazine

A community project, the Villanueva Public Library was the winning design of 4 architecture students in a national design competition. The construction of the library made use of locally-sourced materials such as river stones and timber to reduce transportation costs, and locals helped construct it. This resulted in a community-built library with a stonewalled exterior, and pine wood in a lattice structure, a testament to the idea of local made-by-hand craftsmanship, as well as the strength of community unity.

Photos Credit: Dezeen Magazine

This particular library is even more significant because of its location in Villaneuva. It has become somewhat of an institution in the community, a catalyst for social activities of the town’s residents, and a trove to which residents can go to increase their literacy skills, gain more knowledge, learn a skill, and upgrade themselves.

10. Min Buri Old Market Library, Bangkok, Thailand

Photo Credit: Pasi Aalto

As its name suggests, the library is a refurbishment of a 100-year-old market building, once a commercial hotspot in the area. While its interior only measures 3 by 9 metres, the library also has a backyard that faces a small canal. The library project was initiated by TYIN tegnestue, a Norwegian non-profit organisation.

What makes this library worth a mention is the effort both architects and the community put into refurbishing, restoring, and improving the originally derelict area, making it actually usable as a space for earning and reading. Previously, it looked more like a haunted house fit for Halloween, with its cobwebs and flooding issues.

Photo Credit: TYIN tegnestue Architects

The architects involved used recycled and locally sourced material, even reusing the bookcases from a previous project. The finished product is a combination of simplicity and function, a morale booster for the slum-like area’s residents to take heart in the fact they, too, can achieve a great deal through their own knowledge and initiative. Absolutely inspiring, and definitely worth a visit, if you tire of the shopping and eating in Bangkok!

Photos Credit: TYIN tegnestue Architects

Well, those are my top 10 libraries on my bucket list! Of course, I’m well aware of the many other libraries I’ve missed out, such as British Library, the Oxford Bodleian Library, Library of Alexandria,…etc. All you bibliophiles must also have your own top 10 lists of libraries! Share them with me in the comments below, so I can put them on mine too! 

About Author

Rosxalynd Liu
Rosxalynd Liu

A book-lover who loves losing herself in fantasy and historical fiction, Rosxalynd is working towards her goal of viewing and unravelling the mysteries the world has to offer. On her month-long travels, she eats, sleeps, and lives like a local, whilst taking in the touristic sights her destinations have to offer. Having a terrible sense of direction allows her to experience many things off the beaten track.


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