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7 of the world's most beautiful libraries
Sometimes, the packaging is just as good as what's inside
How cool can libraries be in an era of iPads and Kindles?
More than you think, if you know where to go.
1. Central Library: Seattle, Washington, United States
The Central Library in Seattle is sleek, modern and sophisticated and has tourists from around the world paying visits and taking tours. Yes, actual tours.
In its first year, more than 2 million tourists visited the library, which was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and American designer Joshua Ramus. Tours began in 2006, two years after its opening.
The library was voted onto the American Institute of Architects 150 favorite structures in the United States. Nevertheless it has received mixed reviews over the years.
Whatever the verdict, the building is an impressive work of art: shiny, abstract and unusual.
The library holds various art exhibitions, book signings and other events throughout the year, while visitors can stop by the Chocolati cart for a coffee and browse through the gift shop anytime.
The library offers free self-guided cell phone tours, along with group tours.
1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104 ; +1 206 386 4636; open Monday-Thursday 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday noon-6 p.m.; www.spl.org
2. Trinity College Library: Dublin, Ireland
The Trinity College Library in Dublin is the oldest library in Ireland, founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I.
Not only is the exterior impressive, it boasts the largest single chamber library in the world, also known as the Long Room, which contains more than 200,000 of the library's oldest books.
One of the most famous manuscripts is "The Book of Kells: Turning Darkness into Light," which contains the four Gospels in Latin based on a Vulgate text, written on vellum. The manuscript itself attracts more than 500,000 visitors a year.
The Long Room houses one of the oldest harps in Ireland. Dating to the 15th century, the oak harp is the model for the emblem of Ireland.
Queen Elizabeth II visited the library last year, the first monarch to do so since 1911.
College Green, Dublin 2; +353 01 896 1000; Various exhibitions and tours are available; admission €9 (US$12); open Monday-Wednesday 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Sunday closed; www.tcd.ie/library
3. Geisel Library, University of California: San Diego, United States
Named after Theodor Geisel, widely known as Dr. Seuss, UC San Diego's Geisel Library is one of the most modern library buildings in the world.
At first glance, it looks like a spaceship.
Architect William Pereira, who helped design actual space launch facilities at Cape Canaveral in Houston, Texas, designed the library in 1970. It has been featured in sci-fi films, short stories and novels.
If you need a hint of which film, think of Leonardo DeCaprio, dreams and a lot of snow.
Yes, the snow fortress in the film "Inception" looks a lot like the Geisel Library.
But of course, it's not just the exterior that's interesting. The library also hosts "Dinner in the Library," which invites readers for cocktails, a silent auction and also a special speech from prominent authors.
9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093, United States; +1 858 534 3583; open Monday-Thursday 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday noon-8 p.m.; www.libraries.ucsd.edu
4. TU Delft Library: The Netherlands
The library at the Delft University of Technology was constructed in 1997 and has more than 862,000 books, 16,000 magazine subscriptions and its own museum. But it will only take a glance to be mesmerized, as it is a sight to remember.
The building itself exists beneath the ground, so you can't really see the actual library. What makes it interesting is the roof, which is a grassy hill.
A huge cone pierces the grass roof, which symbolizes technology. This "gives (more) shape to the introverted reading rooms," according to the library.
The roof covers 5,500 square meters. Construction of the roof posed several difficulties in terms of maintenence and leakage, but it has become one of the most striking and greenest (both literally and environmentally) structures in the area.
Quick tip before you lie down on the grass: beware the sprinklers.
Prometheusplein 1, 2628, ZC Delft, The Netherlands; +31 15 27 85678; open daily 8 a.m.-midnight.; www.library.tudelft.nl
5. Bibliotheca Alexandrina: Alexandria, Egypt
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is the revival of the ancient Royal Library of Alexandria, which was the largest and most influential library in the Greek world. It was built by Alexander the Great some 2,300 years ago.
The new library was reborn in 2002 on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea after 10 years of designing, planning and construction.
The library was designed by SNOHETTA, winners of an international competition organized by the International Union of Architects, UNESCO and the government of Egypt.
Along with the standard libraries with books, there are four museums covering antiquities, manuscripts and science, and also 15 permanent exhibitions, including "Impressions of Alexandria," "Arabic Calligraphy" and "The History of Printing."
With its circular yet tilting form, the library looks like a modern painting. Various carvings and alphabetic inscriptions decorate the flatter side of the building, which the designers explain is "a careful display of the library's basic proviso: language."
El Shatby, Al-Iskandariyya, Egypt; +20 3 483 9999; open Saturday-Thursday 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; www.bibalex.org
6. Stuttgart City Library: Stuttgart, Germany
The Stuttgart City Library is controversial. Some say it's innovative, while others say it doesn't match its environment.
Nevertheless, the library is one of the most interesting buildings in the area, along with the Porsche Museum nearby.
Designed by Korean-born, Germany-based architect Yi Eun-young, the design of the cubic facility was influenced by the ancient Pantheon in Rome. It features a linear-shaped "heart," which serves as a multi-story meeting space that draws natural sunlight through the roof.
The space throws various events, including book signings, readings and exhibitions.
The white and silver library may not fit perfectly with the green trees and red-roofed houses around the city, but it does stand out.
Mailaender Platz 1, 70173, Stuttgart, Germany; +49 0711 216 91100; open Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; www.xbibliothek.stuttgart.de
7. Bishan Public Library, Singapore
Located in the heart of Bishan, the award-winning Bishan Community Library spans 4,000 square meters.
Simple and sophisticated, it was designed to look like a tree house.
The colorful pods that stick out of one side of the building represent books protruding from a bookshelf. Inside the library, these pods offer private spaces for reading. Not to mention a perfect place to hold seminars, readings and workshops.
Its ceiling-high glass windows also make it fun to watch people walking and reading from inside the building.
5 Bishan Place, #01-01, Singapore 579841; +65 6332 3255; open daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; www.pl.sg
Do you know a cool library you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments below.
First published September 2012, updated March 2013