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April 2014

Discover some of the biggest and most interesting libraries

Libraries display the wealth of human knowledge in a way the Internet never could. There’s something about browsing the vast aisles of a grand library, sweeping through centuries of texts, each one laboured over by an author who may or may not be widely remembered. It harkens one back to the days of Alexandria and the other great ancient book houses.

In honor of International Special Librarians Day, which occurs annually on 4/13, we’ll venture around the world and explore some of the greatest libraries existing today.

British Library (London)

The British Library is the largest library in the world by collection, housing approximately 170 million items. 1.75 million people visit annually, making it one of the world’s most visited libraries as well. Opened on July 1, 1973, the national library was originally part of the British Museum. Accordingly, the museum features an impressive historical collection of items donated and acquired from the 18th century.

New York Public Library (New York City)

New York City’s public library serves as home to about 53.1 million items, a far cry from the British Library’s 170 million items. With a whopping 18 million visitors per year, however, it’s over 10 times more popular than the British Library. The New York Public Library is the second-largest public library by collection in the United States and the third-largest in the world (following the aforementioned British Library and the U.S. Library of Congress, mentioned below). Established in 1895, the library's vast collection includes a wide variety of American art, rare books and even the first Gutenberg Bible in the New World. Its popularity isn’t linked just to its longevity and collection, however, as the New York Public Library has also been featured in such films as Ghostbusters, 2002's Spider-Man and The Day After Tomorrow.

Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.)

Of all the libraries in the world, none cost more to maintain than the Library of Congress. With a budget of $647 million, it’s by far the most financially supported library. It’s also the largest public library in the United States by collection. With 151.8 million items in its collection and an annual visitor rate of 1.75 million people per year, it’s no wonder that this research library dedicated to the needs of the U.S. Congress is so popular. Established in 1800, back in the days of James Madison and John Adams, the Library of Congress is also the de facto national library of America, as well as an enduring symbol of American history.

Russian State Library (Moscow)

The Russian State Library in Moscow is the fourth-largest library in the world in terms of collection size, housing 44.4 million items for its 1.17 million annual visitors. (The National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg comes close with a collection of 36.5 million items and a million annual visitors.) Established in 1862, the public library brings in about 200 new registered readers per day, with a total of 4000 daily visitors. All guests (residents are not) above the age of 18 are invited to use any of their 34 reading rooms.

Biblioteca Vasconcelos (Mexico City)

The José Vasconcelos Library is dubbed a "megabiblioteca" ("megalibrary") for good reason; the extensive grid of a library stretches over 38,000 square meters and cost approximately 52.69 Euros to build. Located in downtown Delegación Cuauhtémoc, one of the 16 boroughs of Mexico City, the library looks like something out of a science fiction film. Racks extend up to the ceiling, housing books as if placed within levitating shelves. Designed by Mexican architect Alberto Kalach, just being inside the impressive building is an enlightening experience.

Biblioteca Marciana (Venice)

The Biblioteca Marciana in Venice is as much a museum as it is a home for great texts. The design of the building reflects the impressive artistry of the Venetian Republic. A ceiling by Titian overlooks a vestibule housing the Grimani collection of classical sculptures. Stepping into this grandiose library is like taking a trip back in time.

Camel Library (Small villages in Kenya)

Libraries are meant to provide education through the wonder of books, so sometimes it's not the flashiest of buildings that make the most difference. The Camel Library reflects just that sentiment. Organized by the Kenya National Library Service, camels with books are used to serve the nomadic settlements in Kenya. They venture forth into harsh climates and unforgiving terrain to deliver books to those who would otherwise be unable to reach a library.

These are just some of the greatest and most interesting libraries found around the world. Did we miss your favourite? Let us know which library you love the most on our Facebook page and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles about language and learning around the world!