According to Philip Pullman, libraries are treasure chests of serendipity. But how can we benefit from such institutions in today’s digital age?
Dear bookworms and advocates of the written word: fear not, books will never be replaced. Libraries have come a long way and offer everything from books to audio books, DVDs and infinite online resources as well as author talks, bookbinding classes, school workshops, master classes, quiet reading rooms and, last but not least, a hub for meeting like-minded people. Let’s see what the top ten libraries in the UK as assembled by novum publishing have to offer.
1. British Library, London
Interested in Jane Austen’s notebook? The Beatles’ lyrics? Or would you rather explore its over 150 million collection items? Mix it up with exhibitions like the one about Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks in the United Kingdom’s national library.
2. John Rylands Library, Manchester
Enriqueta Rylands had this neo-gothic memorial built for her husband. It was one of the first libraries to collect archives of historic families and make them public. The historic reading room takes you back in time. Perhaps you might even see Harry Potter.
3. Liverpool Central Library, Liverpool
In 2018 the refurbished library won the Bookseller’s Library of the Year Award. While the walkway to the main entrance, inlaid with literary book titles, presents you with a riddle to solve, the atrium staircase up to the modern glass dome leads to a wonderful roof terrace. The classical style of the Picton Reading Room and the Hornby Library are certainly both worth a visit.
4. Chetham’s Library, Manchester
Founded in 1653 and set in the medieval quarter, this is the oldest library in the English-speaking world. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels studied in these halls. Here’s an insider: enjoy a free Lunchtime Concert of Chetham’s School of Music or a Chetham’s Library Sundown Session.
5. Library of Birmingham, Birmingham
This is the most visited tourist attraction outside of London: the largest public library in the UK and largest general library in Europe. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school girl who survived a Taliban attack, opened the library in 2013. Take photos of the unusual façade with its pattern of metal rings and check out the secret garden (7th floor) and the Shakespeare Memorial Room at the top.
6. Bodleian Libraries, Oxford
With every book printed in the UK and Ireland, Oxford’s main research library has more than 12 million printed items. The most beautiful sights are the 15th-century Divinity School and Duke Humfrey’s medieval library. If you have time, book a tour including the Radcliffe Camera, a neo-classical building housing the Science Library. Get inspired by the place where JRR Tolkien used to study as well!
7. The Library of Innerpeffray, Crieff, Scotland
Are you looking for a truly unique experience off the beaten track? Visit Scotland’s oldest free, public lending library. Its charming rural setting breathes ancient history. Here, you may turn the pages of written testimonials for an unforgettable hands-on discovery of Scottish heritage. If you love the Outlander series, seize the chance to look at original pamphlets and medical details from Jacobite Scotland.
8. Wren Library, Cambridge
Named after Christopher Wren who also designed St. Paul’s Cathedral, this library is home to the famous Winnie-the-Poo manuscript. Admission is free but expect queues. If you can’t reserve a spot in the reading room, you can always go punting along the River Cam.
9. Gladstone’s Library, Wales
Dedicate your time to reading and writing, when staying overnight in UK’s only residential library. Enjoy the intimate literary festival “Hearth” (November/February) or the “Gladfest” for contemporary writing (September). Plus, there are fascinating events and classes all year round.
10. Chained Library, Hereford
Here you can see the UK’s oldest books, chained to their bookcases like in medieval times. Go see the Mappa Mundi, the largest complete medieval world map and the Magna Carta, dating back to 1217. The cathedral and its interior are also not to be missed.
Each of these libraries is a dream come true for any book lover and lets you enjoy a respite from our fast-paced and constantly plugged-in 21st century. Share your favourite libraries in our comments!
Find a rare book and indulge in its story in a beautiful reading room. Get inspired for your writing and spread the love for libraries!
Keep writing, keep typing!