Established in 1602, the Bodleian Library (colloquially referred to as "the Bod") is the second-largest library in Britain. It houses over 11 million items, including a Gutenberg Bible and Shakespeare's first folio.
That's all pretty interesting, but the most impressive fact about the Bodleian Library is that it was used as a filming location for the first two Harry Potter films. Remember that next time you're looking for a recipe for Polyjuice Potion.
The Trinity College Library is the largest library in Ireland, and is the only Irish library with rights to obtain materials published in the UK free of charge. Its most famous volume is the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels in Latin. The library also bears a striking resemblance to the Jedi Archives from Star Wars: Episode II, which you may have noticed if you'd made the mistake of watching Star Wars: Episode II.
3. The State Library of Victoria "” Melbourne, Australia
The State Library of Victoria was established in 1854, and is the home of over 2 million items, including the folios of British explorer James Cook. Upon completion in 1854, the dome of the La Trobe Reading Room (pictured) was the largest of its kind in the world. There's also an entire reading room dedicated to the game of chess. If you're searching for (books about) Bobby Fischer, that may be a good place to start.
4. National Library of the Czech Republic "” Prague, Czech Republic
The National Library of the Czech Republic was established in 1777, making it 238 years old. It is the largest library in the Czech Republic, and the home of nearly 7 million books and documents. In 2005, the library won the first Jikji Prize from UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme for digitizing old texts.
5. The New York Public Library "” New York, United States
Although referred to as The New York Public Library, this building is technically named The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, thanks to a generous $100 million donation in 2008. The entrance to the building is famously flanked by two marble lions named Astor and Lenox after the library's founders (though they're also called Patience and Fortitude). Over 50,000 people attended the opening ceremony for the library in 1911 because, seriously, what else were they going to do in 1911?
The Picture Book Library was designed in 2005 primarily to serve three nearby preschools. The entire library is built out of concrete, glass and wood. Most notably, the 1,300 international children's books are stored so that the covers (not the spines) face the preschooler patrons. And to think: my teachers always told me not to judge a book by its cover.
7. The Abbey Library of Saint Gall "” St. Gallen, Switzerland
The Abbey Library of Saint Gall is known as the home to one of the most comprehensive collections of medieval books. 2,100 of its books are handwritten, and 400 of them are over 1,000 years old. In the year 1937, a fire destroyed the Abbey of Saint Gall, leaving only the library unscathed, which just goes to show you how important The Universe thinks books are.
8. The Seattle Central Library "” Seattle, United States
The Seattle Central Library is one of the youngest libraries on our list, with an opening date of 2004. The building's architecture is striking, consisting of several platforms surrounded by glass and a net of steel. The library includes a "Living Room" where patrons can relax and read, as well as a "Books Spiral," which allows the library's nonfiction collection to be displayed without breaking up the Dewey Decimal System. The spiral spans 4 stories of the building ”” and the building itself houses 1.5 million stories.
The Vasconcelos Library is known to locals as the Megabiblioteca or "Mega-Library." As if that wasn't cool enough, the library also has a whale skeleton floating from the ceiling. Even if this library didn't have any books, it'd be pretty amazing (but don't worry; it has plenty of books).
10. The National Library of France "” Paris, France
The National Library of France is more than just a bunch of bookshelves. It was designed as a place to keep everything that is published in France, and its collection of over 40 million items includes not only books and manuscripts, but coins, costumes, photographs and medals as well. If you've ever wanted to learn anything about French culture, this library should be your first stop. It's also one of the swankiest-looking libraries on our list, so at the very least you can take some great pictures.
11. The Library of Congress "” Washington, DC, United States
You might recognize this national treasure from the National Treasure movies. The Library of Congress was established in 1800 and is the oldest, federal cultural institution in the United States. Holding over 160 million items, it's also the largest library in the world. USA! USA! USA!
With its white and gold color scheme and frescoed ceilings, the Admont Abbey Library is one of the most visually striking libraries on our list. It's located in Austria and is the largest monastery library in the world. Over 900 of its 70,000 items are incunabula: books that were printed (not handwritten) before the year 1500. I bet you didn't know you'd get a vocab lesson today!
13. St. Catherine's Monastery "” S. Sinai Governorate, Egypt
The library of St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt is the oldest, continually operating library in the world. It houses the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world, with texts in Greek, Arabic, Coptic, Armenian, Hebrew, Georgian and Aramaic. How many languages do you know, again?
Established and open to the public in 2011, the Stadtbibliothek in Stuttgart has a very modern and minimal look. The building itself is essentially a 9-story cube, and the interior is almost completely stark white (except for the books, of course). Part library, part spaceship, all awesome.
15. Beinecke Rare Book Library "” New Haven, Connecticut
The Reinecke Rare Books & Manuscript Library of Yale University is kind of an architectural masterpiece. It's one of the largest buildings in the world devoted to rare books and manuscripts, and many of those books are located in the six-story glass tower at the building's core. The library is closed for renovations until September of next year, so keep that in mind before you plan your East Coast library tour. (Everyone's planning one of those, right?)