ST. GALLEN, SWITZERLAND
When witnessing the grandeur and beauty of Switzerland’s Abbey Library, it’s hard to remember its actual function. Although this monastery library is more than two centuries old — the oldest library in the country, having been built between 1758 and 1767 — it still offers book borrowing as a public service. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the library houses 170,000 books alongside other media, including adorned Irish manuscripts, original parchments dating back 1,000 years and a rare collection of handwriting from the early Middle Ages. The Abbey’s Baroque hall (pictured) has a rich Rococo design, making the thought of picking up a book the last thing on your mind.
OLD LIBRARY, TRINITY COLLEGE
Built in the 18th century, the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin is home to the Book of Kells, a world-renowned Gospel manuscript that dates back to the ninth century. Comprising the four Gospels written in Latin and based on a Vulgate text, the Book of Kells has been on display since the mid-19th century, attracting more than 500,000 visitors annually. Of the library’s extravagant features, the Long Room (pictured) — the Old Library’s main chamber — is the most inspiring. Built between 1712 and 1732, the room originally shelved books exclusively on its lower level, which by the 1850s became filled to capacity, leading to the construction of the barrel- vaulted ceiling and upper gallery bookcases. It also houses one of the only remaining copies of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic from 1916, as well as “the model for the emblem of Ireland” — an oak and willow harp, from the 15th century.
THE GEORGE PEABODY LIBRARY, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
With its stately aura and stunning architectural ironwork, it’s no surprise that Baltimore’s George Peabody Library doubles as a sought-after event space. The library building opened in 1878 — part of the Peabody Institute founded by the eponymous entrepreneur and philanthropist — and now has a collection of more than 300,000 titles dating mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. The works cover a vast range of subjects including archaeology, British and American history, Romance languages and literature, Greek and Latin classics, and exploration and travel, complemented by an extensive map collection. More than a place of scholarship, however, the Peabody also hosts a range of occasions from intimate luncheons to grand weddings. In the outer Exhibit Room, guests can gather for pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres among display cases holding manuscripts and illustrated texts. The adjoining Stack Room (pictured) is undoubtedly the main attraction. Featuring a black-and-white marble floor, multiple tiers of elegant cast-iron balconies and columns, and classical embellishments with gold- leaf flourishes — all stretching 61 feet up to a massive skylight — the Neo-Grec space is a beautiful, strikingly symmetrical vision that more than fulfils its reputation as “a cathedral of books.” Events are held at the library all year around, including an annual Fall Concert Series featuring folk, jazz and classical programs.
BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library (BPL) was regarded by architect Charles Follen McKim as “his palace for the people.” Not your average public library, the BPL was the United States’ first large-scale, free municipal library. With a total of 26 branch libraries, and altogether holding 6.1 million books, 1.2 million rare books and manuscripts, and countless maps, among other materials, it’s no wonder the Boston Public Library receives over 2.2 million visitors annually.
Home to a few of William Shakespeare’s first-edition folios, as well as original music compositions by Mozart, this fantastic library serves as an urban mecca of classical works, as well as an institution for independent learning.
Bates Hall (pictured) is one of the BPL’s better-known treasures. Regarded as one of the world’s most significant rooms from an architectural point of view, Bates Hall displays a majestic barrel-arched ceiling, which is beautifully enclosed by a half-dome on either end. English oak bookcases along with busts of distinguished authors — as well as well-known locals — and a delicately carved limestone balcony complete the elegant Hall, which was named after an affluent Londoner who donated $50,000 to the library in 1852 to help increase its literary inventory.
Today, there is a vigorous program of events including lectures and discussions with authors. The library is also exhibiting historic manuscripts in commemoration of the American Civil War 150 years ago.
REAL GABINETE PORTUGUÊS DE LEITURA
RIO DE JANIERO, BRAZIL
The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura is a spectacular embodiment of Brazil’s historical ties to the Portuguese empire. The library dates back to 1837, when a group of Portuguese immigrants founded the institution to encourage culture among their community in Rio de Janeiro. The building itself was constructed between 1880 and 1887, using stone lioz shipped from Lisbon for the façade and evoking both in its exterior and interior the intricately ornamented, Gothic-Renaissance architectural style known as Manueline, which flourished during the period of Portugal’s voyages of discovery. Inside, the reading room (pictured) is illuminated by an elaborate chandelier and by natural light streaming in through the red, white and blue stained-glass skylight. The library contains over 350,000 works, the largest collection of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal.
Photo Courtesy: The Abbey Library