Is there anything more wonderful than a great, big, beautiful library? To walk among thousands of books and be allowed to peruse them at your leisure? Even take them home? Well, not all of these libraries allow the public to check out books any more, but they are among the most beautiful in the world. You’re at least allowed to look with your eyes, if not with your hands. Enjoy!

1. The Clementinum, Prague

Baroque library hall with ceiling artwork by Jan Hiebl, Clementinum, Prague, Czech Republic

Baroque library hall with ceiling artwork by Jan Hiebl, Clementinum, Prague, Czech Republic

This library’s history dates from a chapel dedicated to St. Clement in the 11th century. A monastery was founded, and eventually a Jesuit college, and in 1773, it was dedicated as a library, observatory, and university. Since 1990, it has been the National Library, and it spans more than 215,000 square feet. The library is mentioned in Jorge Luis Borge’s “The Secret Miracle”: God is in one of the letters of one of the pages of one of the four hundred thousand books of Clementinum. My fathers and the fathers of my fathers have looked for this letter; I myself have gone blind looking for it. So, a reader enters and delivers an atlas for the main character, saying that this atlas is useless. The main character opens the book at random, and find a map of India, touching one of its minimum letters and, then, finds God. The baroque hall inside is known for its tremendous artwork. Tours occur daily.


2. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.


This is the research library that serves congress, and is the de facto National Library of the United States. Judging by collection size, it is the second-largest library in the world, after only the British National Library. It is the oldest federal cultural institution in the country. After a war and a fire, it was refurbished by the personal library of Thomas Jefferson, who owned nearly 7,000 books. Although the Library is open to the public, only high-ranking government officials may check out books and materials (except through Inter-Library Loan, which is available to the public). The library contains nearly 24 million volumes, including thousands printed before the year 1500, an original rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, and a Gutenberg Bible, for a total of around 160 million artifacts. Open to the public Monday through Saturday.


3. New York Public Library, New York City


Now we’re talking! This library still serves the public. With nearly 53 million items, this library is the second-largest public library in the U.S., after the Library of Congress. It was established in 1895, in part by John Jacob Astor, and employs more than 3,000 people! There are free tours twice a day every day except Sunday. Cardholders can enjoy free online subscriptions to thousands of current and historical magazines, newspapers, journals and reference books in subscription databases, including EBSCOhost, which contains full text of major magazines; full text of the New York Times (1995–present), Gale’s Ready Reference Shelf, which includes the Encyclopedia of Associations and periodical indexes, Books in Print; and Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory, and more. You may recognize it from numerous appearances in pop culture, including the original Ghostbusters. Open daily.


4. Trinity College Library, Dublin


Visitors come first and foremost to see the Book of Kells, a lavishly decorated manuscript containing the four Gospels of the New Testament. Originally founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592, the current structure was built beginning in 1712. The Old Library and the Book of Kells Exhibition are open for self-guided tours daily. The library serves Trinity College and the University of Dublin, and is the largest library in Ireland. The 213-foot main chamber of the Old Library, the “Long Room”, was built between 1712 and 1732 and houses 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books. The library contains over 6 million volumes and is available to the students, staff, and graduates of the two universities for borrowing materials, but open to the public for tours.


5. Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt


Alexandria’s original library was destroyed by fire or battle more than 1,600 years ago. Today’s version, opened in 2002, seeks to recapture the spirit of public learning. The library features a huge reading room that overlooks the Mediterranean sea, a planetarium, four museums, academic research centers, and a multimedia presentation of Egypt’s heritage. The main reading room covers 220,000 square feet, spread over 11 levels. Amazing! Open Sunday to Thursday.


Assuming that the rules didn’t apply to you and you could touch, read, peruse, or borrow anything you wanted,

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Emily Parker is a musician, writer, and avid reader who started Bucket List Book Reviews, the ‘1,001 Books to Read Before You Die’ project. For Sweatpants & Coffee, Emily hopes to inspire the reading of the classics by a whole new audience by only reviewing the really good stuff.

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