Posted by Josh Jeffery on June 3rd, 2016.
In part one of our exploration of the best emigration locations for book lovers, we crossed the Channel to look at some of the nations in Europe and Asia with fascinating libraries and booming library systems.
These countries’ libraries attract patrons from around the world with respect for both the classic vibe of a traditional library and the innovative ideas that could see libraries becoming cultural centres of the future.
Check out part one if you’d like to find out about some of Europe and Asia’s most fascinating libraries.
In part two we head over to the Americas to look at the vast array of fascinating libraries in the United States, as well as the vibrant library sectors of emerging nations in South America.
As you might expect, the United States’ library system is huge and varied, with an estimated 119,487 libraries throughout the nation.
The US has also seen various library innovations and boasts the world’s first completely bookless library; the BiblioTech in San Antonio, Texas. The BiblioTech focuses on e-reading and digital content as well as a variety of medias including video games, computers, tablets and videos.
Chicago also contains many fantastic, notable libraries which have helped library culture thrive.
The State of Illinois enjoys the City of Chicago’s widely celebrated public library system. According to a 2013 study from the University of Düsseldorf, Chicago’s system was ranked as the third best public library system in the world.
The Chicago Public Library is made up of 80 locations across Chicago, and across all branches the Library holds almost 6m volumes. In terms of volumes held, it is the 9th biggest public library in the US and the 30th biggest if you include academic libraries.
Image Copyright: demerzel21
The central library for the CPL is the Harold Washington Library (pictured above), which is also notable for being one of the first public library spaces in the world to have free 3D printing facilities as well as a milling machine and laser cutters. According to the Huffington Post, this new ‘Maker Lab’ was inundated with requests from people wanting to involved within a day of opening.
Appropriately named as the University of Chicago’s library system, this University of Chicago Library has a collection of over 11million as of 2014 – one of the biggest collections in the US.
The library thrives and was joined by the new, modern Joe and Rika Mansueto Library building in 2011. The Mansueto Library was named after billionaire University of Chicago alumni, Joe Mansueto and his wife Rika Mansueto. It has the capacity for 3.5million volumes of the University Library’s total collection thanks to its focus on tight underground storage.
The Mansueto Library was designed by celebrated architect Helmut Jahn, and the building is easily distinguished due to its iconic glass dome. The main focus is the large reading room situated right below the dome. The building’s collection is housed in tightly packed bookshelves below the reading room, which can be easily moved automatically, thanks to a robot named the ‘Automatic Storage and Retrieval System’, or ASRS for short.
Chicago has other bustling libraries including the Richard J. Klarcheck Information Commons, a modern social space with a focus on digital research which was opened in 2008 as an expansion to Loyola University Chicago.
This rare book library was funded by Edwin Beinecke, Frederick Beinecke and Johanna Weigle due to the high volume of rare and valuable books collected by the Library of Yale College. It opened in 1963, was designed by Gordon Bunshaft from Skidmore, Owings and Merill, and has become well known for its iconic exterior and interior designs.
Image Copyright: sainaniritu
The building’s walls are adorned with a repeated design of concave squares, both inside and outside. The interior is warmly lit with amber. Its main reading collection is in the middle of the large building within an enclosed glass tower of book stacks, with the remainder of the collected volumes stored underground.
As one of the largest buildings in the world for rare volume collections and with its famous interior glass tower, the Beinecke has inspired other locations to take a similar approach with rare collections, such as the British Library in London. The Beinecke is currently undergoing renovations (set to complete in September 2016) to improve mechanical systems and storage.
Previously known as the Library of the Peabody Institute, the George Peabody Library is a much more classical library and is currently part of the Johns Hopkins University. While its 300,000 volume collection is wide and varied, it largely focuses on 19th-Century research.
It was funded by George Peabody, designed by Edmund G. Lind and finished in 1878. Peabody’s goal in making the library was to create a place that would be free to use for all who wanted to use it, and it has remained this way even after changing hands multiple times since its original opening as part of the Peabody Institute. The library is now considered historic and was refurbished and renovated in 2004.
Its interior is known for being one of the most spectacular library interiors in the world, according to a talk piece from The New York Times. Stunning balconies of bookshelves surround a large central hall area that is often booked for functions like weddings and private dinners.
These are just a handful of some of the fantastic libraries the United States has to offer. There are many more worth noting, including (of course) the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., established in 1800 and home to the largest collection of volumes in the world at over 160 million items.
New technologies are regularly being utilised in new US libraries too, with the new James B. Hunt Jr. Library in North Carolina (open as of 2013) for example championing a 3D printing workshop, robotic book retrieval and a Game Lab for studying game design.
Also more than worth an honourable mention are some institutions just north of the United States. Canada’s Vancouver and Montreal Public Library systems were rated the top two in the world respectively, according to that 2013 study from the University of Düsseldorf. Pictured below is the Vancouver Public Library.
Image Copyright: meunierd
South America is a massively diverse continent with a number of emerging markets with rapidly growing education and library systems. Two South American nations with a passion for libraries are Mexico and Brazil.
In fact, according to a 2012 article from CareerLibrarian.com, Mexico has the biggest public library system in Latin America despite the nation being far smaller than Brazil in terms of size and population.
A new library plan introduced in 1984 has seen Mexico’s library system become one of the most rapidly growing in the world. Every location with a population of at least 5,000 has a public library funded by the government.
Mexico’s literacy rate has soared to over 90% since the plan came into effect. While some rural areas struggle with a lack of equipment for digital services, the state-created Vasconcelos Program introduced in the last decade aims to provide computer access to smaller areas in Veracruz. The program was dedicated to José Vasconcelos, a philosopher who once ran for the position of Mexico President and was also a former president of the National Library of Mexico.
Named after the same José Vasconcelos as the aforementioned Vasconcelos Program, this huge and famous library in Mexico City was designed by Mexican architect Alberto Kalach and is sometimes called the ‘Megabiblioteca’, or ‘Megalibrary’ and it holds around 500,000 books.
The library was opened in May 2006, when the then President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, claimed that it was one of the most advanced buildings of the Century. While the library was briefly closed due to construction issues in 2007, the library was fully reopened in late-2008.
Its interior is dominated by a complex and impressive sea, or hive, of bookshelves, many of which appear to float in the library’s massive main room due to glass walls and walkways. It was made with the intention of offsetting Mexico City’s pollution issued by creating a modern space of natural light and greenery. It is also known for the whale skeleton displayed in its central hall.
Also commonly called the Royal Portuguese Reading Room and known officially as the Gabinete Português de Leitura, this library is also the biggest Portuguese Library outside of Portugal itself. It was granted the title of ‘Royal’ in 1906 by King Manuel II of Portugal.
Officially opening in 1887, the now famous room was designed in the 19th-Century by Portuguese architect Rafael da Silva e Castro to house a collection started in 1837 by a group of Portuguese merchants in Rio de Janeiro.
The trio of merchants wanted to bring more of their country’s culture to the recently independent Brazil, and began a collection which was built across several different buildings until the project was eventually completed. The collection now holds almost 400,000 volumes and is even fully computerized.
Entering the library envelops patrons in an immersive 19th-Century atmosphere. All four of its walls boast three stories of book shelves, filled to the brim with Portuguese history, including rare original manuscripts and works of literature.
The final stop on our list is an extremely unique library designed by four Javeriana University architects; Miguel Torres, German Ramirez, Alejandro Piñol and Carlos Meza. The four won a competition to design the library which was built entirely out of locally sourced building materials and constructed by the people of Villanueva.
With its outer walls made of rocks from local rivers, the library was finished in 2006 and opened in 2007 as a means of giving a previously impoverished area a sustainable communal place of learning.
According to one of the architects, Carlos Meza, Colombia’s Ministry of Culture as well as local and district authorities made efforts to support more projects such as this, even in less-favoured parts of Colombia. Local materials like wood and stones were used, and the building was designed and placed to maximise natural light, shade and ventilation.
With such amazing contenders out there it’s genuinely difficult to choose the best libraries in the world. There are a number of library systems which celebrate the diversity and creativity of cultural histories around the globe. One step into some of these booming library systems could make anyone struggle to understand Britain’s perceived library woes.
Recent developments in the world’s libraries prove that there will always be communities and architects exploring truly unique ways to not only preserve fantastic classic libraries but also create exciting modern ones.
Indeed, there are many brilliant libraries out there that haven’t been covered in this article, and hopefully this has persuaded you that emigration could also be an invitation to rekindle a love for a medium that people had been wrongfully telling you was becoming a thing of the past.
As evidenced by the increasing usage and importance of libraries in places like Germany and Mexico, the popularity for places of study has arguably never been higher in many parts of the world. These nations have proven that libraries are still relevant simply by evolving and celebrating classic and modern library systems, similarly to how technology and education themselves have evolved.
However, while the UK’s library system is now being used as a cautionary tale, this doesn’t mean it is doomed or unsalvageable. It’s always possible that UK libraries could see increased demand as community spaces once they’re hit by some of the inspiration sweeping other parts of the world.
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