Many people, when asked about libraries, imagine old buildings with dimmed light and endless rows of heavy wooden bookshelves.
Libraries are our heritage. They contain all knowledge humankind has acquired. They have to be like that… or maybe not.
Libraries are the avant-garde of civilization. They have to evolve and look into the future, not only the past.
Modern libraries (and the futuristic building is not a must to make a library modern) are shaping the way we learn things and enjoy books in the digital age. They offer access to books in every possible form and format.
The purpose of this post is to encourage you to visit the library near you. You won’t probably have a chance to go to Singapore and visit Bishan Public Library. On the other side, that library on your street will also welcome you – with a magic of books and the charm of the librarian.
Some of the libraries on the list are obvious, naming only Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library or Yale University Beinecke Rare Book Library. However, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on finding fantastic libraries in other countries, as well.
As you will see, libraries around the world are heading into the future, creating for their patrons a more dynamic, multi-level environment for learning and pleasure.
I’m sure the libraries in your neighborhood have also changed a lot.
37 modern libraries from around the world
1. Ruzomberok University Library, Slovakia
The new library building of the Catholic University premises in Ruzomberok is the first phase of new campus design.
The building has the area of over 2,000 square meters and was designed by a02 Atelier. The library offers students and the public access to almost 800,000 volumes – 310,000 books, as well as an extensive archive with more than 470,000 volumes in the library.
There are approximately 500 workplaces, conference and exhibition spaces and other additional facilities.
2. Joan Maragall Library, Spain
Joan Maragall Library is located in Barcelona, inserted under the garden of Florida Villa.
Designed by BCQ Arquitectura, the building is formed by the “light and silence courtyards” and “books and knowledge courtyards.” The first, surrounded by glass, light and ventilate the interior while isolating the library from the street.
3. Freiburg University Library, Germany
The original library of the Freiburg University was rebuilt in 2015 following the project of Degelo Architects.
The new building has 41,000 square meters and looks like a cut diamond. Inside, there are 1,200 workspaces in four reading rooms plus 500 work areas in the parlatory, where group work is encouraged.
The library offers in the basement a system of automated checkout machines and 700,000 volumes that can be borrowed.
4. Riverside Library in Tongling, China
This library was built in 2015 on an abandoned quay by the riverside in Tongling, China.
The purpose of the Tongling library is not only to provide a place to read books and viewing for people but also to preserve the historical memory of the place.
5. Microlibrary at Taman Bima, Indonesia
This wonderful little public library is located in a Kampung neighborhood near the Bandung airport, Indonesia.
The building was designed by the Bandung office of SHAU architect studio. It has 160 square meters and is built upon a preexisting stage that was already used by the local community for events and gatherings.
The most prominent part of the library is the facade covered with some 2,000 recycled ice cream buckets. Some of them were perforated to deliver a secret message: “The book is a window to the world.”
The Bima public library is the first of a series of similar microlibraries that are planned to be built across Indonesia.
6. The Main Library of the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom
The brand new main library of the University of Birmingham was opened in September 2016 and is an exciting milestone in the university’s development plans.
It took ten years to develop the concept and build at the cost of £60 million this milestone building, giving users a “transformational experience” for students and researchers.
The library, designed by Associated Architects, offers 62 kilometers of shelving (including 12 km of open access bookshelves), housing 2.1 million printed books and journals. There are over 1,800 seats in total and provides enhanced accessibility for modern learning including, wireless mobile charging, media rooms, and video editing booths.
7. Public Library of Constitución, Chile
The city in Constitución, Chile, was devastated by 8.8 degrees earthquake in 2010. The new public library, designed by Sebastian Irarrázaval, is a part of the initiative to rebuild the city.
Constitución is one of the biggest clusters of wood production in Chile. This heritage is reflected in the construction of this post-disaster library. It’s made almost entirely of wood, and only the firewalls are done with exposed poured concrete.
The internal area of the library exceeds 350 square meters. The building was opened in 2015, five years after the earthquake.
8. The Waterdown Library and Civic Centre, Canada
Waterdown is a branch of the Hamilton Public Library. In December 2015, the branch moved to a new building, overlooking Lake Ontario.
Designed by RDHA, the Waterdown Library and Civic Centre is housing – besides the library – a community service office, a heritage society archive, and seniors’ recreation center.
The library incorporates automatic check-in and return system. Thanks to that the frontline staff can focus on programming and increased customer service.
9. Multimedia Library in Auneau, France
The French language has the perfect name to describe the modern-day library. It’s médiathèque – the place where you can use the content delivered on different media.
Such a médiathèque was opened in 2019 in Auneau, a commune in northern France. The building inspired by the nearby market, takes the form of the contemporary hall. The building opens onto the square, with the reading room offering views over the town.
Having 350 square meters, the building is a diversified space combining cultural activities and community life. It offers 18,000 items (books, videos, music, games), as well as public internet stations, and a free Wi-Fi access.
10. Story Pod in Newmarket, Canada
We love ideas like this one! Story Pod, designed by Atelier Kastelic Buffey is a little community-supported lending library standing in the heart of the historic district of Newmarket city, Canada.
Initiated by HollisWealth, this miniature wooden compact pod has the dimensions 2.4 by 2.4 by 3 meters (5.95 square meters) and was opened in 2015. During the day, when two of the walls open like a book, the Story Pod draws curious residents and invites to get in or gather around.
At night, when the doors are locked, recessed LED lights glow through the lattice work like a lantern.
HollisWealth Story Pod “encourages you to open your heart and mind to life’s possibilities similar to the way a book does.”
11. Cedar Rapids Public Library, United States
The city Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA, decided to build a new central library after a flood swept through the city’s downtown central library in 2008.
The new building, finished in 2013, with the area of 94,000 square meters, quickly became a dynamic cultural center of the city, embracing the transformational shifts of the modern technology and combining it with the building’s natural eco-friendliness.
The new design broke barriers between the staff and patrons, library and civic spaces, and staff departments. The metrics on circulation, meeting room use, and computer use have far surpassed expectations.
12. Sales Pavilion and Library in Guiyang, China
The library is located on the outskirts of Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province of Southwest China. The building was originally intended to be a temporary marketing pavilion helping sell apartments in the neighborhood.
Van Wang Architects convinced the developer to repurpose the part of the building to the community library. The bookshelves were added, completely redefining the whole space by stacking and overlapping in two atriums, from the ground to the ceiling.
13. Thionville Library, France
Here is another great médiathèque in our overview. This futuristic cultural center is located in Thionville, a city in northeastern France, and was opened in 2016.
The library was designed by Dominique Coulon and Associates, an architecture agency from Strasbourg. The creators’ ambition was to create the project that would become a new model for media libraries.
The grass is almost everywhere, inviting you to rest and spend some time reading, watching, or studying. There are lots of hidden rooms and alleys. Each one may serve as a quiet reading space.
14. Library of the Vienna University of Economics, Austria
The Library and Learning Centre of the Vienna University of Economics and Business was designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. It rises as a polygonal block from the heart of the new university campus.
The main part of the building houses the service area, the learning centre and the economics library. The library management quarters and student services are located in the smaller block.
The library holds a collection of over 600,000 print books, and almost 100,000 ebooks. It ranks among the most extensive libraries of its kind in the German-speaking world.
15. Cayenne University Library, French Guiana
The library building in located in the center of the university campus. Its goal is to gather books and readers in a unique place dedicated to knowledge.
The building, designed by rh+ architecture, combines traditional documentation and modern technologies. The interior is mainly an open space with wide reception spaces, diverse reading and research areas.
16. Bishan Public Library, Singapore
The Bishan Public Library was opened in September 2006. Designed by LOOK Architects, it’s a metaphor of a tree house. Situated in Singapore, the library is serving the needs of nearby schools and inhabitants of the Bishan area.
The library offers over 250,000 titles spread over four floors and a basement. The windows that protrude out of the building are reading nooks for readers who want to read quietly or use their laptops there.
17. LiYuan Library, China
Built in 2011 in a small village of Huairou on the outskirts of Beijing, this beautiful nature-inspired library was designed by Li Xiaodong.
The 175-square-meter building’s interior is spatially diverse by using steps and small level changes to create distinct places. The wooden sticks temper the bright light and spread it evenly throughout the space to give a perfect reading ambiance. The library has no electricity supply and closes at dusk.
18. Katiou Library, Burkina Faso
Designed by Albert Faus, this simple building is an example of a well-thought, inexpensive, yet very functional community library. It was built in Komsliga Department, Burkina Faso, for the total cost of under EUR 20,000.
The bookshelves are built into the walls. This clever idea lets give the walls more thickness and at the same time liberate interior space. Thanks to that the reading desks, and computer stations can be placed in the center.
19. Library of Muyinga, Burundi
Here is another example of the great library recently opened in Africa. Having 140 square meters, the building was designed by BC Architects. The total budget was EUR 40,000.
The library was built with the local know-how and traditions of Muyinga in mind. It’s organized along a circulation space. This “hallway porch” is often a part of the Burundian traditional housing as it provides a shelter from heavy rains and harsh sun.
20. Cooroy Library, Australia
This 1,600 square meter building located in Cooroy, Queensland, Australia, houses the town’s public library.
Designed by Brewster Hjorth Architects it is a part of a cultural plan for Cooroy, linking the existing art gallery, main city street, recreational park, and the upgraded rural industry areas.
The library includes a technology center, with digital training rooms, community rooms, community lounge, reading areas and café.
21. Warsaw University Library, Poland
Designed by Marek Budzyński and Zbigniew Badowski, the library opened in December 1999. Guests and book-lovers have direct access to the main part of the library’s bounty, which can be reached through the sides of the building – meaning that students occupying the central areas are not disturbed by visitors.
The distinct element of the building is a botanical garden, located on the roof. With an area of one hectare, it’s one of the largest roof gardens in Europe.
22. Turku City Library, Finland
Turku City Library, located in the city center of Turku, is a combination of the old main library building from 1903, and the new addition, designed by JKMM Architects, and finished in 2007.
The new Turku Library is a center for knowledge, experiences, and learning. It’s a common living room for everybody. There are meeting rooms, reading seats and wireless internet all over the library.
23. University of Aberdeen New Library, Scotland
Designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, and opened for public in September 2012, the new library of the Aberdeen University houses more than 250,000 books and manuscripts.
This 15,500 square meter facility accommodates 14,000 students with 1,200 reading spaces, archives, historical collections and a room for rare books. It is designed to provide for students a 21st-century learning and research experience.
24. Maranello Library, Italy
Designed by Milan-based architects Arata Isozaki and Andrea Maffei, the new library of the Maranello community is intended to provide its visitors an introspective experience and visual connection with nature.
25. Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Canada
The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is a library in the University of Toronto, being the largest repository of rare books and manuscripts in Canada.
The building was opened in 1973. Since that time, the library has grown to approximately 700,000 volumes and 3,000 linear metres of manuscript holdings. Among the collection’s items are the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623), Newton’s Principia (1687), and Darwin’s proof copy (with annotations) of On the Origin of Species (1859).
26. University Of Versailles Science Library, France
Designed by Badia Berger Architects for Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines University, the library building opened for students in 2012. The architects focused primarily on energy management. The building is designed to provide maximum energy independence without neglecting the environmental impact of construction.
With over 4,000 square meters, the library is a central place on the university campus.
27. Ballyroan Library, Ireland
Designed by Box Architecture, the new library in South Dublin opened in early 2013.
The new library offers extensive seating and a large study area with many public access computers, as well as printing and photocopying facilities.
Free internet is available throughout the building. Facilities include easy-to-use self-service units that should reduce queuing time.
28. Biblioteca José Vasconcelos, Mexico
Located in Mexico City, this stunning building is often called “megabiblioteca” (“megalibrary”). Spread across 38,000 square metres, it’s dedicated to José Vasconcelos, the former philosopher, presidential candidate and president of the National Library of Mexico.
Built for $98 million, the library opened in May 2006 and was claimed one of the most advanced constructions of the 21st century. The shelves are the most important part of the design. They are contrasted by several modern sculptures, with a prominent whale skeleton, created by Gabriel Orozco.
29. Tama Art University Libraries, Japan
Consisting of two libraries, Hachioji and Kaminoge, the project is aimed to contribute to art education and research for students and faculty of privately held Tama Art University, one of the leading universities in Japan.
Both libraries, located in Tokyo, contain more than 17,000 Japanese and foreign-language books, as well as over 1,800 periodicals. A large collection of books covers art, design and architecture, ranging from reference books to specialized research materials.
Kaminoge Library also owns the collections of the late Shuzo Takiguchi (1903-1979) and the late Katsue Kitazono (1902-1978). They both are famous Japanese artists, poets and art critics.
30. Biblioteca España, Colombia
This ultra modern library is located in the northern part of Medellin, in Colombia. Three massive non symmetric geometric buildings house the community centre, auditorium, and the library. It is part of the government’s social master plan program to give equal economic and social opportunities to the population.
The 11,500 square foot project was completed in 2007, out of brick and stucco structures. For library’s architect, Giancarlo Mazzanti, the major premise was to design interiors that could “decontextualize the individual from the poverty that is experienced in the outside.”
31. Stuttgart City Library, Germany
Marvellously designed by a Korean architect Eun Young Yi, and built for over $100 million, Stadtbibliothek in Stuttgart officially started in October 2011.
The heart and core of the library follows the design of the ancient pantheon. The gallery hall is a five-story space, in a form of a square and surrounded by shelves of books.
The interesting thing is that the word “library” is displayed in four languages (German, English, Arabic, and Korean) on the outside walls.
32. Vennesla Library and Culture House, Norway
Vennesla Bibliotek og Kulturhus is a new a public library for inhabitants of Vennesla municipality. The building was designed by architects from Helen & Hard and officially started in late 2011.
Located in the city centre, with café, open meeting places, and a small scene, the building combines a library and house of culture.
33. Black Diamond Library, Denmark
Black Diamond is an extension to the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen. Its quasi-official nickname is a reference to its polished black granite cladding and irregular angles.
Designed by a Danish architect Schmidt Hammer Lassen, Black Diamond was opened in 1999. The facilities include a 600-seat auditorium, the Queen’s Hall, used for concerts, literary events, theatrical performances, and conferences.
34. Utrecht University Library, The Netherlands
Opened in 2004, the library building is a new addition to Utrecht University campus.
Designers from Wiel Arets were putting a lot of attention to build a place where students and visitors could spend time in an open and interactive space while concentrating on the private reading.
35. Yale University Beinecke Rare Book Library, United States
The building was designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft and is considered one of the world’s largest libraries devoted entirely to rare books and manuscripts.
In total, the library presently holds 500,000 volumes and several million manuscripts. When visitors first enter the building they see a large glass tower that is the central core of the building. The mezzanine level lets people rotate around the glass tower which holds 180,000 volumes.
36. São Paulo Library, Brazil
Inaugurated in January 2010, the library, designed by Aflalo and Gasperini, has 4,257 square meters, and stores more than 30,000 items. The new institution is the central hub of 961 libraries in São Paulo region.
The library is located on the site that was formerly taken by a prison. Now it’s a place of freedom to explore knowledge, ideas, and books.
37. Surry Hills Library and Community Centre, Australia
The existing Surry Hills Library opened in 2009. This flagship City of Sydney building spans 4 floors and, besides the library, it also houses a community center and child care center.
Surry Hills Library specializes in fashion and design titles, as well as having a significant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender collection.
38. Nam June Paik Library, South Korea
Located on the first floor of Nam June Paik Art Center, this ultra-modern public library was designed by Nahyun Hwang and David Eugin Moon as a multi-functional spatial device, which redefines the relationship between library users and information.
In contrast to the conventional library, Nam June Paik Library aims to promote “non-linear and random access to information, and its production beyond the prescribed consumption.” Through spontaneous expression and juxtaposition of ideas, the consumer of information becomes the producer, and the static contents of the library turn dynamic.
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Interested in exploring more about libraries in the digital age? Here are recent posts:
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