20 of the Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

Libraries are some of humanity's most beautiful architectural accomplishments.

View of Rose reading room at New York Public Library
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Libraries are special not only because they serve as community anchors and provide a wonderful example of resource sharing, but also because they're the brick-and-mortar repositories of our collective knowledge and have, as such, long been afforded some of the best architecture money can buy. Beyond their often-exquisite designs—enhanced by an abundance of aesthetically pleasing books—are the unique sanctuaries they offer.

While nobody requires a magnificent space to enjoy a good book, the 20 beautiful libraries below nonetheless provide a magical environment to revel in the wonders of the written word.

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Library of St. Mang's Abbey (Germany)

Wide-angle view of library at Saint Mang's Abbey

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While little remains of St. Mang's Abbey's original library contents in Füssen, Germany, the interior architecture is grand enough to warrant a visit nonetheless. Books still line the ornately decorated oval room that's adorned with stunning frescos, and it boasts a view of the monks' dining room.

St. Mang's Abbey, dating back to the ninth century, was once a monastery, but it was converted into a Baroque-style church in the early 1700s, when the Counter-Reformation movement saw many Catholic churches convert to Protestantism throughout Europe. The library's original collection of books and manuscripts was removed in the early 1800s after the princes of Oettingen-Wallerstein took control of the abbey following the Napoleonic wars. (Those books and manuscripts are now housed at the University of Augsburg.)

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Tianjin Binhai Library (China)

Elevated view of Tianjin Binhai Library's modern interior

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The Tianjin Binhai Library is one of the youngest—therefore, most modern—world-famous libraries. Opened in 2017, it's located in the cultural center of the Binhai district in Tianjin, China, a coastal metropolis outside Beijing. Its most eye-catching feature is the large spherical auditorium in the center, surrounded by rows of bookshelves that—on top of holding 1.2 million books—"act as everything from stairs to seating," said a 2017 press release from architecture firm MVRDV. The shelves' contours also flow along two glass facades that link the library to a park outside.

According to that press release, the unique angles and curves in this auditorium are designed to stimulate different uses of the space, including walking, reading, and "discussing."

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Haeinsa Temple (South Korea)

Aisle of library at Haeinsa Temple

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While you won't find any teen fiction on its shelves, the Temple of Haeinsa on Mount Gaya in Haeinsa, South Korea, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its housing of the Tripitaka Koreana, the most complete collection of Buddhist texts in existence. Carved on more than 80,000 woodblocks during the 13th century, the text contains no known errors within its more than 52 million characters and 6,568 volumes. The Temple of Haeinsa was constructed in the 15th century specifically to store the Tripitaka. The buildings reveal "an astonishing mastery of the invention and implementation of the conservation techniques used to preserve these woodblocks," UNESCO says.

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Malatesta Library (Italy)

Ancient hall inside the Malatestiana Library

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With a geometric design typical of the early Italian Renaissance, the Malatesta Library's interior is unusual, featuring 58 pew-like desks to which the library’s prized collection of 341 hand-printed codices are secured with their original iron chains. All told, there are more than 400,000 items, including 287 incunabula (pamphlets printed before 1501) and 3,200 16th-century editions as well as the personal library of Pope Pius VII. The Malatesta Library, which is located in Cesena, Italy, predates the invention of printing. Built in the 15th century, it's one of the oldest intact public libraries in the world.

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Strahov Library (Czech Republic)

Ornate painted ceiling inside the Strahov Library

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The Theological Hall in the library of Prague’s Strahov Monastery was established in 1679 and serves as a shining example of the exuberance and grandeur typical of Baroque design. In addition to some 18,000 books on theology, the library has many marvelous architectural details, such as the carved wooden cartouches with images indicating book categories and the elaborate ceiling frescoes painted in the 18th century by Siard Nosecký.

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Mafra National Palace Library (Portugal)

Hallway with high, arched ceilings in Mafra National Palace library

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Nestled in Portugal's Mafra National Palace—a Baroque masterpiece built in the 18th century by order of King João V—is this incredible Rococo library. The spectacular space holds a collection of more than 35,000 leather-bound volumes ranging from the 14th to 19th centuries. Yet beyond its good looks and great books, the library stands out for another reason: A colony of bats resides (allowably) in the library for natural pest control against book-damaging insects.

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Joanina Library (Portugal)

Baroque interior of Coimbra University Library, Portugal

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Another Portuguese beauty patrolled by bats, the stunning 18th-century Baroque Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Coimbra, Portugal, features decorated arches that separate three great rooms, each with painted ceilings and bookshelves made from gilded or painted exotic woods. The library contains about 250,000 volumes, mostly works of medicine, geography, history, humanistic studies, science, civil and canon law, philosophy, and theology. Its bug-eating bats have been a part of the preservation plan for at least 200 years, and the caretakers cover the furniture nightly to protect it from guano.

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Trinity College Library (Ireland)

Old hall in the Trinity College Library
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When completed in 1732, the library at Trinity College in Dublin had a flat plaster ceiling, but as its prodigious collection grew, expansions were required. In 1860, the roof was raised to allow construction of the present barrel-vaulted ceiling and upper bookcases. Thousands of rare and very early books and artifacts are housed in its lofty shelves, each punctuated by a marble bust. Among them are the "Book of Kells" and the Brian Boru harp, a medieval Gaelic harp from which the national symbol of Ireland was derived.

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Abbey Library of Saint Gall (Switzerland)

Baroque library hall with painted ceiling

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Considered one of the most important monastic libraries in the world, this Baroque rococo bonanza and UNESCO World Heritage site in St. Gallen, Switzerland, is also an architectural masterpiece. Its ceiling paintings are framed by flowery, curved moldings. Wooden balconies float from the second floor of the spacious hall, creating an aura of ancient grandeur.

The Abbey Library of Saint Gall is home to manuscripts dating back to the eighth century. While it is open to the public, any of its 160,000 books printed prior to 1900 can only be read in the reading room.

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Library at All Souls College (England)

Statue and wall of books at All Souls College

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Oxford's College of All Souls of the Faithful Departed was founded by Henry VI and the archbishop of Canterbury in 1438, but it wasn’t until 1710 that the school’s library received its most prominent donation, Christopher Codrington’s legacy of £10,000 (more than a million in today's money) to rebuild the structure, plus his personal collection of 12,000 volumes. The new library buildings, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, were completed in 1752. Today, colorful book covers pop against the dusty teal shelves, topped with a stunning plaster barrel-vaulted ceiling. The collection houses around 185,000 volumes, about a third of which were printed before 1800.

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Sainte-Geneviève Library (France)

Large reading room at Sainte Genevieve Library

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At the Place du Panthéon in Paris, the Sainte-Geneviève Library is striking for its novel use of an exposed structural iron frame (the first public building to ever do so), which forms a lacy ferrous exoskeleton that defines the spectacular room. The library, designed by Henri Labrouste in 1843, inherited a collection of more than two million documents from the former Abbey of Sainte-Geneviève. It serves as the main research and reference library for students attending the University of Paris.

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George Peabody Library (Maryland)

Skylight and marble floor of the George Peabody Library atrium

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The George Peabody Library is remarkable for its five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies, which rise dramatically like a wedding cake to the skylight 61 feet above the floor. The library dates back to the founding of the Peabody Institute, philanthropist George Peabody's dedication to the citizens of Baltimore in appreciation of their “kindness and hospitality.” Opened in 1878, it was designed by Edmund G. Lind in collaboration with the first provost, Dr. Nathaniel H. Morison. The library contains more than 300,000 titles, most of which date from the 18th to early 20th centuries.

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Leipzig University Library (Germany)

Neorenaissance-style atrium in Leipzig University Library

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In 1891, the University Library in Leipzig, Germany, moved to its current location in an exquisite Neo-Renaissance building known for its spectacular white atrium, featuring tall columns, a bifurcated staircase, and globe lanterns. The building was nearly destroyed in World War II but was finally returned to its former splendor when it reopened in 2002, after eight years of expansion and renovation.

The University Library dates back to 1542 when Rector Caspar Borner commenced a collection of several thousand items. The current collection has some five million volumes, 5.2 million media units, and 7,200 current periodicals in addition to a significant holding of special collections.

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State Library of New South Wales (Australia)

Overhead view of skylit reading room

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Perhaps the most famous part of the State Library of New South Wales (NSW) in Sydney is the Mitchell Wing, which contains an ornate vestibule, grand skylight, and a marble mosaic reproduction of the historic Tasman Map on its floor. The building—named for David Scott Mitchell, who bequeathed his books to the library—was completed in 1910. The original journals of James Cook are housed among the collection's some five million items (two million books and more than a million photographs).

As a whole, the State Library of NSW is the oldest library in Australia. In 1869, the government purchased the 1926 Australian Subscription Library to form the Sydney Free Public Library, the first truly public library for the area; it then became the State Library.

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New York Public Library (New York)

Main reading room of New York Public Library.
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New York City’s 1911 beaux-arts main branch library on Fifth Avenue may be one of the city’s most beautiful buildings. Among the many incredible rooms for individual collections and smaller libraries within the majestic interior, the Rose Main Reading Room stands out. The cavernous room is the length of two city blocks and is lit by chandeliers and lamps that grace the long oak tables. The ceiling, 52 feet high, is decorated with vibrant murals of the sky; a perfect place for getting lost in the clouds.

The New York Public Library boasts a collection of 15 million items, including medieval manuscripts, ancient Japanese scrolls, and contemporary works.

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Stockholm Public Library (Sweden)

Large rotunda at the entrance of Stockholm Public Library

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Designed by Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund in 1922 and completed six years later, the Stockholm Public Library is one of the city's most notable structures, replete with a majestic rotunda that provides a unique cylindrical hall. This monument to modern functional design is home to more than two million printed volumes and 2.4 million audiotapes, CDs, and audiobooks.

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Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Connecticut)

Glass-enclosed tower of book stacks

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The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, is one of the world's largest libraries devoted entirely to rare books and manuscripts. Designed by Gordon Bunshaft and the prolific modernist firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the striking building composed of Vermont marble, granite, bronze, and glass was completed in 1963.

Among the many treasures tucked away safely in its colossal glass-enclosed book towers are the Gutenberg Bible and Audubon's "Birds of America," both on permanent exhibition.

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Liyuan Library (China)

Minimalist book stacks in China's Liyuan Library

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A departure from the ornate, over-the-top edifices typically regarded as beautiful, this minimalist library located in the small village of Huairou, China, two hours north of Beijing, is equally stunning, even without the bells and whistles. Designed by Li Xiaodong, its glass exterior shell is clad with locally sourced sticks to better blend with the nature that surrounds it; inside, stepped cases, seats, and platforms house books and provide areas for quiet contemplation.

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Sir Duncan Rice Library (Scotland)

Unique spiraling atrium inside Sir Duncan Rice Library

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Although the University of Aberdeen was established in 1495, its library is firmly rooted in the 21st century. The Sir Duncan Rice Library—formerly called the Aberdeen University New Library—features a minimalist exterior that opens to reveal a spiraling atrium; a dynamic vortex that connects the building’s eight stories. The stunning modern design is the work of Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects and was commissioned to replace the former library in 1965.

The Space Age facility accommodates 14,000 students with 1,200 reading spaces, archives, historical collections, and a room for rare books. The building was also designed to meet the highest sustainable standards and has been certified BREEAM Excellent.

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Tama Art University Library (Japan)

Arches and art installations inside the Tama Art University Library

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Designed by award-winning Japanese architect Toyo Ito, the Hachioji Library at the Tama Art University in Hachioji, Japan, is an exquisite work of design. Completed in 2007, it is made of reinforced concrete arches and glass, allowing the contours of the rolling outdoors to meld with the seductive space inside.

The second floor of the library offers open-access stacks holding more than 100,000 books. In all, the collection holds more than 77,000 Japanese books, 47,000 foreign books, and 1,500 periodicals with (no surprise) an emphasis on art, design, and architecture.