Around the World in Seven Libraries
By Nicole Heintzelman
September 21, 2023
I’ve loved libraries all my life. They are sanctuaries of knowledge and imagination, inviting us to embark on journeys to far-off lands and distant times without ever leaving our cozy reading nooks. I love to travel too, so when I get the chance, I often forgo a tourist hotspot to visit the local bibliotek. It feels like a little piece of home. As someone with a passion for both literature and travel, I've often found myself choosing to explore the world through the pages of books and the hallowed halls of libraries over the typical tourist attractions. And what better way to celebrate National Library Card Sign-Up Month than by embarking on a literary voyage of some of my favorites that I have visited, "Around the World in Seven Libraries"?
The first internaonal library I ever visited was Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. It truly is a must-see. The original library opened in 1592 but the current location was constructed during the 18th century. The Library houses the Book of Kells, 9th century gospel manuscripts, which are priceless examples of the illuminated books that were popular back then. Although it’s kept under a glass case, you’re transported into another world as you try to decipher the Latin rich pages. The Long Room is the most famous image of the Library, and it contains 200,000 books.
Across the pond is Chetham’s Library in Manchester, England, which I visited in 2017. Established in 1421, it’s the oldest public library in England. One of its most notable patrons was Friedrich Engels, who penned “The Condition of the Working Class in England” during his time there. He and Karl Marx, a frequent visitor, even had a favorite reading room that is on display today.
Further north on that same trip, I checked into the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. Some of its archive treasures are the last letter of Mary Queen of Scots, manuscripts from Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, and more. Perhaps one of its oldest gems is a Gutenberg Bible, 1 of only 20 known surviving copies to survive from the original 180.
I visited two Scandinavian libraries in 2015. The first was in Oslo, Norway: The Deichmanske Bibliotek. It’s the country’s first and oldest library but is housed in a very modern building. It sits near the iconic Opera House and its architecture soaks in the natural light (day and night) to provide a static atmosphere reflecting its outdoor spaces. I was struck most by its bright interior and hands-on, creative experiences (3D printers, musical instruments, sound recording, etc.). Sound familiar?
The second library was in Göteborg, Sweden: Stadsbiblioteket. Göteborg is Sweden’s second largest city, sits on the west coast, and was/is a huge player in the shipping industry. It holds the record for Scandinavia’s oldest public library, although the current building opened in 1967 with distinguished guest, author Astrid Lindgren known for the Pippi Longstocking children's book series!
Not to be outdone, Canada offers some gorgeous libraries, too. The Halifax Public Library offers ample space for art displays and a rooftop café. The Toronto Public Library’s five floors contain a Living Wall Biofilter (think: wall of plants); clear, round study pods; and the Arthur Conan Doyle collection. There you’ll peruse through 25,000+ items related to Doyle, including original manuscripts and photographs.
What about U.S. libraries? I’ve visited my share of those, too, but that’s for another blog.