The World’s Most Interesting (and Accessible) Library Collections

From the Magna Carta to Winnie the Pooh, what you can see at some of the world’s great libraries

A stunning, modern wing of the Royal Library of Copenhagen, added in 1999. (Ludovic Maisant/Corbis)

Libraries have existed in some form for as long as books themselves. More than just repositories of printed material, libraries serve as protectors of history and curators of knowledge—not to mention beautiful spaces that inspire us. And while National Library Week (April 12–18) celebrates American libraries and librarians, it’s also a good excuse to spotlight the collections of amazing libraries around the world. The institutions below have some of the most exciting collections, exhibitions and history around—and most importantly, they’re not just hallowed halls accessible to only the most august of scholars, but spaces open for the public to explore and enjoy, with frequently fascinating objects on display.

The Royal Library of Copenhagen

Founded in 1648, the Royal Library of Copenhagen is the largest of the Nordic libraries. One of the most popular reasons to visit is to marvel at the stunning architecture of the Black Diamond, an impressive new wing added in 1999. Designed by Danish architects Schmidt, Hammer and Lassen, the Black Diamond is an imposing glass-and-black-marble construction intended to reflect the Copenhagen waterfront on which it stands.

As the Danish legal deposit library, the building contains at least one copy of every Danish book published, including the earliest Nordic book—the Dalby Book, an evangelical Christian tract printed in 1086. Other gems to explore include a large collection of ancient Icelandic books and pamphlets.

A permanent public exhibition, “Treasures in the Royal Library,” displays a Gutenberg Bible, Hans Christian Andersen’s diaries and the archives of the father of existentialism, Søren Kierkegaard.

One of the best ways to access the library is to join the public tours held every Saturday at 3 p.m. The tours are conducted in English and Danish, and include both the old library building and the Black Diamond. Anyone (even non-nationals) can register to join the library and use the Reading Room West, where you can peruse items from the library’s collections.


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