Even for those who read only sporadically, there is a certain fascination with spaces that hold books, be they some of the world’s most beautiful libraries or the world’s most stunning bookstores. Booklovers are forever searching out books wherever they go, which can sometimes lead to discovering some extraordinary spots that allow you to bend sideways and read what’s on offer. Here are some of the world’s most unusual libraries, ranging from libraries resembling the Escher Stairs to one hidden inside a tree.
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Qatar National Library
WHERE: Doha, Qatar
This enormous space, all 485,000 square feet of it, is an Instagrammers dream. Wide open space, all white with wooden accents, terrific light, and a hyper-modern atmosphere is added to by more than one million books in numerous languages accessible to all. The modern feeling is enhanced by travelators, airport-like people-movers, yet historic documents are displayed in stylish glass vitrines. Designed by Dutch architects OMA, the space is as much a library as an urban design hub.
WHERE: Stuttgart, Germany
You know those etchings of sets of stairs that look straightforward but, upon closer inspection, seem to go up as well as down? These Escher Stairs may well have been the inspiration for the public lending library in the southern city of Stuttgart in Germany. The white cube building is Instagrammable from all sides with its minimalist design and interesting symmetry, but add books and an intriguing set of stairs, and you have one of the most stylish libraries in the world.
WHERE: Oxford, England
Not only the main research library for Oxford University and one of the oldest libraries in the world, the Bodleian Library has other claims to fame as well. The main entrance hall, the Divinity School, has a stunning example of Gothic vaulted ceilings, immediately recognizable as the Infirmary of Hogwarts. Scenes in both The Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban were set around a sick bed under this very ceiling. But, when it comes to books, the library holds 13 million printed items, including examples of the Gutenberg Bible (the first book ever printed), dating back some 560 years. Due to their uniqueness and value, many of the books are protected by electricity but can be seen during an official guided tour.
WHERE: Nice, France
When is a library an art installation? When it is not only a piece of art by French sculptor Sacha Sosno (1937-2013), called Tête Carrée, but also a library building designed by architects Francis Chapus et Yves Bayard, creating a kind of inhabited artwork. On Esplanade Kennedy in the southern French city of Nice, stands what, from the distance, looks like a large cube of a building. Come closer, though, and you see that the cube is the top part of a gigantic head, raised from the ground by the neck and shoulders, standing some 100 feet tall. Inside it is a more-or-less normal library, but at night, the seemingly stone exterior is lit up by the windows of the building.
A Tree Library
WHERE: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
When you have a 110-year-old cottonwood tree outside your house that is not viable anymore, what better idea than to turn it into a library? After all, paper is made from wood, so it fits. This personal project by librarian, artist, and bookbinder Sharalee Armitage Howard, the tree trunk is a bona fide library complete with a roof, door, shelves inside, and a selection of books. The post of what must be the prettiest library ever, went viral around the world, and is a proud part of the group Little Free Libraries, encouraging book swaps.
WHERE: Berlin, Germany
This library, which deals with the study of language and words, is a beautiful, Norman Foster-designed building in Berlin, and part of the Free University Berlin campus. Not only is the building filled with books about words, but it is also intelligent: the airflow is generated by the undulating roof and ceiling structures, the temperature is naturally regulated, and the windows are designed to create a perfect light for comfort and learning. Intelligent books in an intelligent and eco-conscious setting.
WHERE: Hawarden, Wales
Hawarden lies in northern Wales, close to the Wales-England border. Quite small and not necessarily on the main tourist trail, it has one claim to fame: the Gladstone Library. Built by bequest of the former Prime Minister William Gladstone, it is located in a huge Victorian house in a perfect countryside setting. It is also the only residential library offering rooms to stay overnight in. Twenty-six historic rooms, a restaurant, a lounge, and countless books—20,000 of which are from Gladstone’s personal library, which was housed in nearby Hawarden Castle, where he lived.
Gute Bücher für Alle, Floating Books
Gute Bücher für Alle, or “good books for everybody,” is a German charity launched in 1970. It currently operates two large ships, which have docked at 480 harbors in 150 countries, and welcomed some 49 million people, including more than 11 million children, onboard. The volunteers staffing the ships hold events to promote literacy, education, cross-cultural cooperation, and, of course, to distribute books to those who have little access otherwise. Maybe not a library as such, as the books are not expected to be handed back, but a great idea, nevertheless.
Some children do not have access to books or learning because of the remoteness of living or due to political or environmental reasons. The camel libraries in Pakistan—literally a camel caravan bringing books to remote areas, as well as permanent reading rooms made available to communities—is a charity, part of the Alif Layla Book Bus Society, which is facing the challenge of reaching out-of-school children across Pakistan and provide them with reading and learning materials.
The Red Phone Boxes Libraries
WHERE: Westbury-sub-Mendip, England
When cell phones took over from landlines and public call boxes, England’s iconic red phone boxes became empty and unused. In Westbury-sub-Mendip, in the southwestern county of Somerset, the first exchange library inside the phone box was founded and run by the council. Giving these so typical for England phone boxes a new lease of life, keeping them from going to rot, and providing a great location for book swaps.
A Bookless Library
WHERE: San Antonio, Texas
Probably the saddest inclusion in this list is a library without books, the Bexar Bibliotech Library. There is reading material for sure, but it is all digital, and walking into this library has been likened to walking into an Apple store, bleak and with lots of screens. While you won’t find colorful book spines or feel the thrill of pulling a book off the shelf, it seems this is the library of the future, although the Norwegian one is much more appealing.