‘Libraries’, ‘books’ – what are these intriguing new internet buzzwords? To explain it in terms tech-savvy web users will understand: A ‘library’ is like the internet but all the websites are printed onto thin pieces of pulped wood, bound together and called ‘books’.
Excuse the patronising tone we just feel the disclaimer is necessary because it’s easy to forget about the pleasures of quietly reading a book at the library and we’re certain that one day libraries as much as we love them will be nothing more than museums. In this article we’ll show you 5 of the most breathtaking libraries in the world to hopefully rekindle some of that lost love of books.
1. Library Hall, Prague, Czech Republic
Part of the Jesuit college of The Clementinum dating back to the 11th century, the library’s Baroque architecture is stunning. The roof features a large Baroque artwork exulting knowledge and art in winged strongmen, robed scholars, sandstone monoliths and wispy clouds in incredible detail. The oldest books of the Jesuits are whitened from age and marked with blood. This library is a history buff’s dream.
2. Law Library, Iowa State Library, USA
The best word to describe this beautiful library is ‘ornate’. It has four dolls house-like stories stacked with books, spiral staircases cascading down, chandeliers glowing yellow and every balustrade and cornice is patterned with 19th century intricacy. The other word that comes to mind is ‘classic’ – it is pretty much the quintessential library (if being somewhat exaggerated in its library-ness) , the library we all dreamed we would one day own in the dream mansion we would one day build. (If this article has done anything to awaken the forgotten bookworm inside you, that last sentence may sound less than completely redundant.) Or, because of the way that Hollywood depictions of libraries are exaggeratedly library-ish, you may be interested in this library because it bears one of the closest real life resemblances to The Hogwarts Library of Harry Potter.
3. George Peabody Library, Baltimore, USA
This library of The John Hopkins University was founded in the 19th century by the wealthy businessman George Peabody. This was in gratitude to the hospitality the city of Peabody showed him while he defended it against the British during the War of Independence .
The Cathedral-inspired architecture is clearly intended to produce something like religious awe as one enters the building. You immediately find yourself in the heart of this enormous structure, gazing up at the tremendous corpus of information. Imagine having 300,000 books within your frame of vision. Thoughts about how much knowledge, how many words, how many lifetimes of study you are looking at would be inescapable. This library really rekindles that often-lost childlike fascination with how many books really do exist in the world (and you can read any one of them!)
4. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Centre, Berlin, Germany
This library, built in 2009 adds a modern touch to the grandeur of traditional libraries. It combines wooden panelling and enormous perspective with a rectilinear (formed from straight lines) – almost pixelated structure. The architecture acclaims knowledge, progress and everything that libraries represent, because from the top study floor (as in the image), you can look out into the large open space and grasp the enormity of this carefully engineered structure.
The library is named after the Brothers Grimm – the fraternal collectors and authors of European folklore famously anthologised in the eponymous Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Notable stories include Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and Rumpelstiltskin.
5. Stuttgart City Library, Germany
This ultramodern open-plan library is designed by Korean architect Eun Young Yi. The building is a 45m³ cube built from grey concrete and frosted glass bricks. Books line the walls and a vortex of staircases connects the nine floors which each contain a different category of books. Light flows down from frosted glass roof into the heart of the building which is an airy open space.
Each library has its own feel to it and reading feels different in each library you go to. It seems like this library was designed to have a feeling of lightness and freeness to it to promote relaxation and open-minded thinking.
The conceptual genius of this and the Grimm Centre designs are their framing of the traditional library in modern architecture. This challenges notions that libraries are outdated in order to draw the interest of a public fixated on their phone screens.
But what’s so great about libraries and books in the first place?
Ok, so you’ve enjoyed the nice pictures, but what you expect from this section is a doe-eyed paean about the wonders of libraries and reading. We do love both of those things, but we’re going to explain our reasons as practically as possible.
What’s so great about libraries?
We’re complete technophiles to the extent that we think of soft copies as more ‘real’ than hard copies (because they are more securely stored). But we’re also realistic in that we acknowledge the advantages and disadvantages of every new technology and every change in general. Reading an eBook at home has numerous advantages, but it has a detachment – from others, from history and from sensation that you get from reading a real book at a library. It has a blank, modern feeling of sterility in contrast to the muskiness and warm comfort of your local library. Because libraries are focal points for communities of readers, you are also surrounded by like-minded people as soon as you walk through that door. The hushed reverence is so similar to entering a place of worship, that you can’t help but feel reading is a religion and the library its cathedral.
One of the greatest qualities of libraries is also one we so often take for granted. This feature has actually become increasingly interesting in the modern digital age. The art of curation is part of what sets libraries apart. In opposition to the open sewer of the internet where everyone pours billions of pieces of content on there and no one is there to verify the authority or importance of it. Sure, Google picks over the dump based on their own arbitrary decisions but they only filter the information forward, not out. That’s why your search returns millions of listings not just a select few chosen by your lovely librarian. Yes the limitations of a small curated collection are restrictive and yes the internet is wonderful. But there is also great value in expert opinion choosing what books are worth reading.
What’s so great about books?
Real tree-based books, as quaint and antiquated as they seem have some real advantages over both web reading and eBooks that have been revealed by studies.
Web reading’s greatest advantage is also its greatest disadvantage: that the abundance of highly accessible information causes you to lose concentration, jump wildly from page to page, heading to heading, click frantically and seldom actually read anything deeply or pause to think critically. I could site numerous sources to back this up, but I’ll site this one study and you can madly click your way from there: Internet makes us stupid… [study]
Real books also beat eBooks in various factors, a significant one being: Readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper, study finds. Presumably this is because we have been conditioned into an eye-darting, click-happy mode of reading by the web.
The final question to be answered is: why would a digital marketing company be advocating books? Well, we love the internet as well of course, but we wrote this to remind all those data-bombarded web dwellers of the joys that they may have forgotten of sitting down and reading a book on a quiet afternoon. We also feel that some of the lessons from millennia of libraries have yet to be successfully applied online and that the future of reading, borrowing and storing of books or ebooks will continue to change and develop, we can’t wait to see the library of the future.