February is the month for lovers…lovers of libraries, that is. So if you, too, love these buildings filled with knowledge, endless rows of colorful bindings, all organized by subject matter, or author, or time period, then February is your month to rejoice. Libraries are for everyone, whether you are seeking a new novel to read, doing research for a project, or looking for a warm, safe haven from the hectic world around you. Libraries are also places for people who love beautiful architecture and history. It’s no wonder that Oxford’s Bodleian Library was used in all of the Harry Potter films and is a central “character” in Deborah Harkness’ “All Souls Trilogy.” Libraries, in existence since the 7th century B.C., are mesmerizing, transformative and frankly mind-blowing institutions.
The welcoming smile of my librarian
The anticipation in my heart
All those books—another world—just waiting
At my fingertips.
From “My First Memory (of Librarians),” by Nikki Giovanni, American Poet
The Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago, Illinois was originally a bank when it was built in 1923. Now, it houses a gallery and a library, and several other collections. The Johnson Publishing Company, publishers of Ebony and Jet magazines, have donated all of the books and periodicals and the site is considered a must see for scholars and collectors of South Side history.
The JP Morgan Library in New York is located just a short walk from Grand Central and Penn Stations and houses many exceptional literary and historical manuscripts, including a signed journal of Henry David Thoreau; material from this journal was used for writing “Walden.”
Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is home to the breathtaking Linderman Library. There you can see many rare books including John James Audubon’s “Birds of America.”
The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto houses the largest collection of (not surprising given its name) rare books and manuscripts in all of Canada. Fans of author Margaret Atwood will find many of her original writings here as well.
If you are planning a trip to Paris, then you must visit the Reading Room at The Sorbonne as well as the Richelieu-Louvois Library. Of the two million volumes housed at The Sorbonne University, about 40,000 are accessible to visitors. But trying to get through even one book will be difficult in the Reading Room given how beautiful the space truly is. And the Richelieu-Louvois Library is a stunning architectural sight to behold and houses books, manuscripts, photos, letters, etc. dating back to the beginning of the 18th century.
If you are visiting Prague, you will not want to miss the Clementinum Library. A beautiful example of Baroque architecture dating back to 1722 when it was part of the Jesuit university, it now houses over 20,000 books.
The Szabo Ervin Library in Budapest is actually located in a 19th century neo-Baroque mansion, previously known as Wenckheim Palace. The mansion has been converted into a library, housing the largest library network in all of Budapest.
The Starfield Library in Seoul, South Korea, is a beautiful, bright, modern space housing 50,000 books and is free to the public to use.
When in Rio, the Royal Portuguese Reading Room is a destination not to be missed. This hidden gem dates back to 1837 and features breathtaking, floor to ceiling wooden bookshelves, a stained glass dome ceiling, and crystal chandelier. This library houses more than 350,000 volumes, and boasts the largest collection of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal.