Spring is taking its sweet time to arrive, but on the bright side, cooler temperatures offer plenty of opportunity to pack up those books and stay indoors — preferably, if you’re a consummate traveller, to some of the world’s most beautiful reading rooms.
Libraries have been around since the period of pre-history gave way to history; indeed, the ability to record information and organize those records was a turning point in civilization. Early libraries date back to Ancient Egypt, with evidence of library classification systems in Nineveh beginning as early as 700 B.C., according to The American National Encyclopedia. Libraries evolved over time, from the Library of Alexandria in Egypt (30 B.C.), to private libraries housing holy texts in monasteries and in the Islamic lands, to the European libraries of the Enlightenment.
The famous mathematician William James Sidis claimed that the public library, as we now know it, was a strictly American invention. The world’s first library to be supported by public taxation was opened in Peterborough, New Hampshire, in 1833, with the Boston Public Library following suit in 1852.
Library design is an art form in and of itself; architects are tasked with finding not only the most beautiful and functional ways in which to display books, but also with creating a space that is simultaneously public and private — welcoming to all people, but comfortable for visitors who wish to retreat into the solitary world of a chosen book. Acoustics are vital, as are lighting and seating. And while for many the idea of a library evokes images of fluorescent lighting and traffic-worn carpeting, there are certain libraries throughout the world that serve as some of the finest architectural projects ever created. From the iconic Rose Room at the New York Public Library to a converted church in an old Canadian city, some of these spaces are destinations for book lovers and architecture buffs alike.
This spring, grab your favourite book—or preferably an entire stack—and head straight to the world’s finest reading rooms.