Travel - Locations
By: - at September 17, 2013

Top 15 Largest Libraries in the World

Library RoomLibraries have an extensive history that dates back hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. What first started as a way to preserve as well as access important documents has branched off to a way to research, enlighten and educate people all over the world. There is a common misconception that the only thing a library is useful for is checking out books. But librarians and library lovers worldwide will tell you that this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are numerous things you can do at the library. Sure, you can check out books, but you can also participate in clubs, take certain workshops and classes, receive tutoring, conduct research, perform job searches and get help developing resumes, learn more about local government programs, rent movies, and much, much more. Many libraries develop supplemental programs and offerings specifically to meet the needs of the local community.

There are hundreds of libraries including public libraries, private libraries, academic libraries, government libraries, special libraries, and archival libraries. Libraries contain materials of all forms. You can find government documents in libraries, musical scores, DVDs, CDs, books, manuscripts, letters, digital content, albums, diaries, and even jewelry, bones, and shells. Libraries come in many shapes and sizes and this list contains the 15 largest libraries found in the entire world.

15)  Library and Archives Canada
The Library and Archives Canada is located in Ottawa, Canada, and works to make the heritage of Canada accessible by preserving it. Materials include, but are not limited to, artworks, archival records, serial publications, and audio-visual media, and can all be found within the walls of the library. The Library and Archives Canada is home to 20 million items, including government records, books, and data collected by the Census of Canada. Some of these items have even been made digital and can be accessed online. Historical records such as the Canadian Constitution Act and the British North America Act are located at the Library and Archives Canada, as well as the book, "De antiquitate Judaica: De bello Judaico," was printed in 1470, making it the oldest book in the collection.

Library and Archives Canada
By Padraic Ryan [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5-ca], via Wikimedia Commons

The Library and Archives Canada is composed of separate buildings that serve separate functions. The building located at 395 Wellington Street is the main building where the public can physically access materials. The building located at 625 du Carrefour Boulevard, Gatinea is known as the Preservation Centre and is used as a safe storage area for the more valuable items in the collection. There are also other buildings located in the area used for storage and other purposes.

14)  Boston Public Library
The Boston Public Library is a public library located in Boston, Massachusetts. The library was established in 1848 and serves a population of 6,547,629. It's a municipal library that is also the very first of it's kind in the United States to be supported by the public. This library was also the first large library in the United States to be made for public use and to allow patrons to take borrowed materials outside of the library.

The Boston Public Library has over 22 million items in various formats. Some of those formats include:  art, audio and visual media, manuscripts, autographed books, and numerous other items that enrich the collection of the library. According to the American Library Association (ALA), the Boston Public Library is the second-largest public library in the United States. The library is composed of two buildings: the McKim building and the Johnson building. The McKim building is home to the library’s research collection and the Johnson building is the headquarters for the Boston Public Library’s 25 other branches. It is also the building that houses most of the library’s circulating collection. The Boston Public Library circulates 1.7 million items and has a budget of $38.9 million.

McKim Building
McKim Building Library
By Fcb981, via Wikimedia Commons

Johnson Building
Johnson Building Library
By David Jones, via Wikimedia Commons

13)  Berlin State Library
The Berlin State Library is located in Berlin, Germany. It is a universal library that contains universal collections, meaning that the library houses a variety of collections in many different formats and languages. The library’s collection includes print materials, rare books, musical scores, autographs, millions of maps, and thousands of magazines, databases, serials, as well as plenty of other useful resources. Some of the most popular items found in the Berlin State Library’s collection are the manuscripts of famous composers, such as:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven’s original score of Symphony No. 9.

The library is home to over 23 million items in various formats and is composed of two buildings. The Haus Unter Den Linden building is the original building of the Berlin State Library and it contains collections up until the year 1945. The Haus Potsdamer Straße building is a modern research library and contains collection from the year 1946 to today. The library sees over 1.4 million visitors a year and is open to any person who needs to use the collections and the services provided.

The Haus Unter Den Linden building
The Haus Unter Den Linden building
By Beek100 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

The Haus Potsdamer Straße building
The Haus Potsdamer Straße building
By Khalid Mahmood, via Wikimedia Commons

12)  German National Library
Established in 1912, the German National Library is the Federal Republic of Germany’s central archival library and national bibliographic centre. It collects archives and records of bibliographic information for all German and German-language publications from 1913. It also houses translations of German works as publications produced by foreigners about Germany. This library has two parts; one of them is located in Leipzig and the other is located in Frankfurt, Germany. It is home to nearly 25 million items in various formats.

The library is separated into two buildings, The Deutsches Musikarchiv building and The Leipzig building. The Deutsches Musikarchiv (translated to the German Music Archive, DMA) is the main collection of printed and recorded music in Germany and strives to collect all music published in Germany. The Leipzig building is the German State Library’s main building and houses most of the library’s collection, it even contains a museum of books. The German National Library sees over 904,000 visitors per year and it is a reference library, meaning the items located inside of it cannot be taken out of the building. Materials may be viewed in reading rooms only, any person looking to use the library must be at least 18-years-old and provide a librarian with a passport or ID card.

The Deutsches Musikarchiv building
The Deutsches Musikarchiv Library
By Dieter Brügmann (German Wikipedia) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Leipzig building
The Leipzig Library
By Appaloosa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

11)  The National Library of Spain
The National Library of Spain, or Biblioteca Nacional de España, was established in 1712 and is a major public library located in Madrid, Spain. This is the largest library in Spain, it contains more than 25 million items in its collection and is the head of the Spanish Library System. The library is home to thousands of maps, books, newspapers, serials, electronic documents and several other formats of research and entertainment media. The library offers services, such as:  interlibrary loans, borrowing privileges and many other services you would find at a public library.

The National Library of Spain
By Ecemaml, via Wikimedia Commons

The National Library of Spain is a legal deposit building, meaning that a copy of anything published in Spain must be provided to the library for free. While the main building is located in Madrid, there is an additional building located in Alcalá de Henares that is home to additional items of the library’s collection. It has a budget of 52 million euro (or 7 million USD) and over 1000 people on its staff. Books printed after 1931 are available for access by anybody with a National Library of Spain library card and materials printed before 1931 are only accessible to those who have a researcher card.

10)  Library of the Russian Academy of Science
The Library of the Russian Academy of Science is located in Saint Petersburg, Russia and it is home to over 26 million items. The library was established in 1714 and is a research institute that focuses on the fields of science, computer science, library science, archives, document restoring, document conversion and security. Employees of  The Russian Academy of Sciences institutions and higher education scholars are allowed to use this state owned Russian library. Academic institutions and Russian publishers are legally required to provide the library with at least one free copy of each published item. In 1988, the library caught fire and many of the items located within its walls were either damaged or destroyed. The library has 32 other branches that provide various services including reading rooms and interlibrary loans.

Library of the Russian Academy of Science

9)  Royal Danish Library
The Royal Danish Library, or Det Kongelige Bibliotek, is located in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is Denmark’s national library as well as the library of the University of Copenhagen. The Royal Danish Library is home to over 30 million items, from print to microfiche. Every work printed in Denmark from the 17th century onward is contained in the Royal Danish Library’s collection and it holds almost all known Danish works printed, even a book printed as far back as 1482. The library is composed of many buildings each one houses materials for certain subjects. There is a building for materials of social sciences and law, another for natural and health science, another for humanities, and another building that covers all subjects as well as special collections. The Black Diamond building allows visitors to see the ocean when gazing out the back of its black glass windows. The library itself was established in 1648 but the university library aspect was founded in 1482. The library opens its doors to 850,000 people each year and has a budget of over 380 million krone, which is nearly 70 million USD. The library is open and available to anyone who needs to use it but there are limitations for special collections.

The Royal Danish Library
The Royal Danish Library
By Hansjorn,  via Wikimedia Commons

The Black Diamond building
Royal Danish Library Black Diamond Building
By Jeroen Pulles, via Wikimedia Commons

8)  The National Library of France
The National Library of France, or Bibliothèque Nationale de France, was established in 1792 and is located in Paris, France. There are an amazing 31 million items in it's collection and one of the goals of the National Library of France is to house within its walls all items that are published in France. The library strives to cover information in all fields and prides itself on being accessible to all. One of the many notable parts of the collection is the Greek collection, which contains around 5,000 Greek manuscripts. One interesting point about the National Library of France is that it does not have a wireless network.

The National Library of France

The National Library of France contains reference services and actively participates in research programs both nationally and internationally. It receives 1.3 million visitors per year and has an operating budget of 254 million euros (339 million USD). The library also features many events and exhibits (many of them are virtual exhibits, meaning that you can view them online) such as The Ballet of the Paris Opera. The library also has what is known as the Gallica, it contains over a million and a half documents for access.


7)  National Library of China
The National Library of China is located in Beijing, China and was established in 1909. It has a collection of over 31 million materials including books, documents, manuscript, photographs, maps, digital media, medals and coins. Thousands of documents are acquired then added to the library’s collection each year from donations, deposits, and general operating acquisitions. The items in the library do not circulate to the public.

National Library of China

The National Library of China has an extraordinary collection, such as:  tortoise shells and bones from the Shang Dynasty, traditional thread-bound Chinese books and copies of Buddhist sutras that date back to the 6th century. A brief breakdown of some of the most notable parts of the collection include: rare Chinese books, tablets of the Xiping Stone Classics, various materials that contain rubbings on ancient inscriptions and the original draft of Zizhi Tongjian by Sima Guang.

6)  National Diet Library
Though the name might seem a bit misleading, the National Diet Library is not a library consisting of materials about diets. The National Diet Library is the one and only national library in Japan. Established in 1948, this library is dedicated in its goals to aid researching on various public policy matters. The National Diet Library is home to over a shocking 35 million books and has two main facilities. One of the main facilities is located in Tokyo and the other is located in Kyoto, this library is called the Kansai-Kan. The library also has 27 branches located within Japan, it serves 654,000 people and has a budget of over 21 billion yen.

Tokyo Main Library
National Diet Library
By Kure, via Wikimedia Commons

The National Diet Library collects copies of items published in Japan and has an impressive collection of materials in foreign languages on a vast amount of different subjects, the library’s Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) can be accessed by people all over the world. Anyone looking to use the National Diet Library for research must be at least 18 years of age to use the main Library in Tokyo and the one in Kyoto.

Kansei-Kan Main Library
Kansei-Kan Main Library
By amagase, via Wikimedia Common

5)  National Library of Russia
Like the Library of the Russian Academy of Science, the National Library of Russia is located in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It is considered a major library and has the second richest collection in Russia. The library contains over 36 million items in its collection, it is both the oldest public library in Russia and the first library in the country. The library contains many collections of books, manuscripts, documents, sheet music, drawings, and other materials. It collects items from all over the world and in various languages, especially those that focus on science as well as technology. It is known as the Research and Cultural Center of Russia that offers free access to its collections and has reading rooms along with reference services. Foreigners visiting the National Library of Russia may be limited in their visits based on their visas.

National Library of Russia
By Florstein, via Wikimedia Common

4)  Russian State Library
With a staff of over 1,500 people and over 44 million materials in its collection, the Russian State Library definitely fits the requirements of being one of the largest libraries in the world. The library is located in Moscow, Russia and receives a whopping 1.17 million visitors each year. The Russian State Library was established in 1862 and is the largest library in the country. Between the years 1925 and 1991 it was known as the V. I. Lenin State Library of the USSR, its name was changed in 1992. The library contains over 12 million journals, over 17 million books, serial publications, thousands of maps, audio/visual materials and much more. The Russian State Library also contains items in its collection that are in different languages (almost 250 languages from around the world) that make up nearly 30 percent of its collection. Like many other libraries found around the world, it is a legal deposit library that  requires a copy of anything published in Russia to also be placed inside the library.

Russian State Library
RIA Novosti archive, Sergey Pyatakov / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

3)  New York Public Library
The New York Public Library was established in 1895 and is located in New York City, New York, it is home to over 51 million items and is steadily growing. With a budget of nearly $250 million and seeing over 18 million visits a year, the New York Public Library is the second largest library in the United States. The library, which received both public and private financing, is a nonprofit organization. It has many branches, some of which are located in Staten Island, Manhattan, and the Bronx. It is also affiliated with several professional and academic libraries within the state of New York. The library as well as its branches contain both circulating and research libraries that are open to the general public.

New York Public Library
By Galaksiafervojo, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most notable and popular services provided by the New York Public Library is the ASK NYPL. ASK NYPL is a reference service provided by the library. This service answers reference questions via online chat connection, telephone, and email 24 hours a day, every day of the week. The New York Public Library’s collection contains various forms of materials including manuscripts, musical scores, documents, maps, albums, audio/visual media, and several other items. Because of its vast amount of resource and technology, the library has been featured in popular culture, such as:  movies and television programs. Some of the films that the New York Public Library has been featured in are:  The Wiz, Spider-Man, 42nd Street, and Ghostbusters. Television shows that the library made an appearance on include: Traveler and Seinfeld. It even appeared as an animated version of itself in the tv series Futurama.

2)  British Library
The British Library is located in the gorgeous city of London, England in the United Kingdom and is home to an astonishing 150 million materials. The British Library was established in 1976, it has around 1.75 million visitors each year and the library’s budget is an impressive 142 million pounds (226 million USD). The library is considered a major research library and contains collections in various languages. It contains books, databases, stamps, maps, drawings, serials, magazines, electronic books, and thousands of audio/visual items. Some of its notable items include two Gutenberg Bibles, the manuscript of Alice’s Adventure Under Ground by Lewis Carroll, and the oldest remaining manuscript of the poem Beowulf. The British Library is a legal deposit library and receives at least one free copy of anything produced in the United Kingdom. It contains services such as reading rooms and reference assistance. There are thousands of materials at the British Library that are accessible online, including digital documents. The library is the second largest library in the world and has several exhibitions on display for books, manuscripts as well as statues.

British Library
By Patche99z, via Wikimedia Commons

1)  Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, it was established 1800 and is located in Washington, D.C. This research library is composed of four buildings in Washington, D.C. and one additional building is located in Culpeper, Virginia. The main duty of this library is to do research for inquires made by the members of Congress. The library is open to the public but only allows individuals who are high ranking government officials (members of Congress, Library of Congress employees, Supreme Court justices) to check out books.

The library created what is known as the Library of Congress Classification (LCC). The Library of Congress Classification is a book classification system used by many university and research libraries in the country. Items such as books, manuscripts, photographs, drawings, newspaper, serial publications, films, microfilm, fine art, and much more can be found at the Library of Congress. The four buildings that make up the Library of Congress are: the Thomas Jefferson Building, the John Adams Building, the James Madison Memorial Building, and the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation. The Library of Congress is a great tourist attraction, but only people with a Reader ID Card can access the reading rooms. Users must supply a government issued picture ID and be at least 16-years-old to enter any of the reading rooms. The Library of Congress has over 151 million materials and an overall budget of $600 million, it also establishes many projects that promote literacy.

The Thomas Jefferson Building
The Thomas Jefferson Building

The John Adams Building
The John Adams Building

The Madison Building
The Madison Building
By Carol M. Highsmith, via Wikimedia Commons

The Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation
The Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation

Each of the libraries listed are worthy of a visit. Not only do they house thousands upon thousands of materials and different resources, they contain services that are second to none. Some of the resources and materials provided by these libraries will not be found anywhere else in the world. The walls of these buildings contain hundreds of years worth of valuable and priceless information. The knowledge that can be found in these libraries are almost endless and because of services like interlibrary loan, you can access materials that your local library may not own. Libraries are so much more than storage buildings for books and a place to access free Wi-Fi, they are a necessary part of your culture no matter who you are or where you come from.





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