Libraries play an integral role in preserving and reviving important aspects of our culture. A library is simply a collection of resources and valuable information, kept together in a physical or virtual space which can either be accessed by the general public or a specific group of people.
One of the oldest and most historic libraries in the world, the Library of Alexandria functioned as a major center of research and scholarship in the 3rd century onward. Unfortunately, the library was destroyed – a single largest loss of knowledge in the recorded history.
But we are not here to talk about the history. Below is a list of some of the largest public and private libraries in the world.
15. Boston Public Library
McKim Building, Boston Public Library in 2013
Catalogue: 22.4 million
Annual Budget: US$38.9 million
The Boston Public Library is one of the most important public libraries in the United States. In terms of total size of cataloged items, Boston Public Library is the third largest in the United States after the Library of Congress and New York Public Library. The library is known for its rich and extensive research collection.
14. Berlin State Library
Berlin State University Fecade Manfred Brückels
Catalogue: 23.4 million
The Berlin State Library acts as a universal library in Germany, responsible for collecting text and media from various fields of studies in almost every language. As of 2012, the library had a collection of more than 12 million books, 25,000 periodicals and 2.7+ million microfilms.
It is also the home to some of the famous and historical illustrations such as a Gutenberg Bible, the original autograph collection of Goethe and the largest manuscript collection of Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Beethoven’s original score of Symphony No.9.
13. Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Image Courtesy: Alex ‘Florstein’ Fedorov
Catalogue: 26.5 million
The Library of Russian Academy of science was founded in St Petersburg in 1714 by a decree of Peter I and was included as an integral part of St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. It is one of the largest government-funded libraries in the country, which can be accessed by the library employees and scholars pursuing higher education. Since 1783, all academic institutions and private publishers in the country have been obliged the library with a copy of each new item.
12. German National Library
The German National Library in Leipzig
Catalogue: 32.7 million
Annual Budget: €52.3 million
The German National Library was established specifically for collecting and systematically archiving all published documents, journals and books in German language since 1913. It is also responsible for collecting foreign publication regarding German, translations of German literature and other works, and lastly to make them publicly accessible.
Currently, the library has two facilities one in Frankfurt and another one Leipzig, which shares responsibilities and specializes in different areas. There was also a third facility in Berlin, responsible for audio archives, which was merged with the one in Leipzig in 2010.
11. National Library of Spain
Image Courtesy: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
Catalogue: 33.1 million
Annual Budget: €47.4 million
The National Library of Spain or Biblioteca Nacional de España is the oldest and largest public library in Spain. It was instituted in 1712 by King Philip V of Spain as a public library. He then passed a law or something of that kind which made it mandatory for all publishers to deposit a copy of every printed book in the library.
Being a national library, its current responsibilities are finding, preserving important and valuable information regarding Spain’s cultural heritage for research purposes. According to the most recent data, the library holds more than 15 million books, 4.5 million images and graphic materials, half-a-million sound records and other important materials.
10. The Royal Library of Denmark
Image Courtesy: Arne List
Catalogue: 35.4 million
Annual Budget: 385.9 million DKK
Denmark’s Royal Library is the largest library in the Nordic region (Nordic countries). The library was founded by King Frederik III in the 17th century. Since then, a copy of almost every printed work in the country is kept in the library. Due to several high-profile donations, the library now have almost every known printed works on Denmark’s history, including the first printed work of Johann Snell in 1428.
As of 2015, the library’s collection was totaled at 35.4 million items, of which nearly 20 million were documents and images, 6.4 million books and journals the remaining were historic pamphlets, corporate publications and other artifacts. The library’s digital collection has reached 791 terabytes.
9. National Library of China
National Library of China in night time, south side view
Catalogue: 36.4 million
The National Library of China is the fourth largest library in Asia and the largest in China. The library was inaugurated in 1912 right after the Xinhai Revolution and it received the status of a national depository library four years later. In 1928, its name was changed to National Peiping Library but was officially renamed in 1987 to the National Library of China.
The NLC shelters valuable pieces of Chinese literature. Official UN publications, ancient manuscripts, inscribed shells and bones and record from the historic Chinese dynasties, and many other rare historical documents are only available here. However, most of the materials are not publicly available.
8. National Library of Russia
Catalogue: 36.5 million
Annual Budget: 570 million Rubles
Located in St Petersburg, the National Library of Russia is the oldest national and public library in the country. It is the second largest library in Russia in terms of cataloged size. The library holds endless amounts of documents of cultural and national heritage.
Of the 36 million items, 15 million are just books. Other collections include journals, magazines, newspapers, official documents, sound recordings, databases, maps, manuscripts and other media.
7. Bibliothèque nationale de France
Image Courtesy: Vincent Desjardins
Catalogue: 40 million
Annual Budget: €254 million
As the national library of France, the BNF act as a repository of every single publication in the country. The origin of this library can be traced back to the Royal Library established at the Louvre Palace by Charles V in 1368. Most of the library’s modern premises were built during its 1998 expansion under President François Mitterrand. Its digital library, Gallica provides its users access to more than 4 million documents, half-a-million books and 50,000 audio recordings.
6. National Diet Library
Catalogue: 41.88 million
Annual Budget: ¥21.8 billion
The Japanese National Diet Library or NDL was established in 1948 after combining the library of House of Representatives and House of Peers to assist the elected members of the National Diet in matters of passing laws regarding public welfare. The library has two main facilities one in Tokyo and another in Kyoto.
As the largest library in Japan, NDL maintains a huge collection of national and international publications in foreign languages for research purposes. It currently accommodates a staggering 30 million documents regarding the postwar occupation of Japan, half-a-million advanced science books and about 440,000 maps of Japan and other nations.
5. Russian State Library
Image Courtesy: Vladimir Tokarev
Catalogue: 44 million
Annual Budget: 1.6 billion Rubles
The Russian State Library situated in Moscow is the largest in the country. Founded on July 1, 1862, it is also the oldest library in the Russian capital. The library accommodates an astonishing 44 million items of which 17 million are books, 13 million are journals and documents in 247 different languages.
From 1920s until the fall of the USSR in 1991, a copy of each and every book published in the country was deposited with the library. This practice is still in use and it is required by the law to submit a mandatory copy of every book or journal published in the entire country.
4. Library and Archives Canada
Image Courtesy: Padraic Ryan
Catalogue: 54 million
Annual Budget: C$116.9 million
The Library and Archives Canada or LAC is a Canadian national institution which is responsible for obtaining and preserving Canada’s cultural heritage and making them readily accessible. In 2004, following the Library and Archives of Canada Act, the National Library of Canada and the National Archives of Canada were combined to form LAC.
The library holds over 20 million books, an enormous collection of 24 million images and digital data of more than 1000 terabytes. Most of the online available data are doctoral thesis, popular books and fragile and vulnerable items. Some important documents in library’s online data repository are the proclamation of the Canadian Constitution Act and the British North America Act.
3. New York Public Library
Catalogue: 55 million
Annual Budget: US$250 million
The New York Public Library is a chain of public libraries operating in the City of New York. Based on total number of cataloged items, the NYPL is the third largest library in the world and second largest in the United States. Due to its open nature and granted public access to more than 18 million people visitors arrive here annually, which makes it the most visited libraries in the world.
At the moment there are 87 branches of NYPL operating throughout the city with 39 in Manhattan, 35 in Bronx and the rest on Staten Island. A new branch in Manhattan was recently inaugurated in June 2016. It also has a total of four open access research libraries.
The library’s Digital Collection contains more than 700 thousand images from various library collections. In 2006, the website was listed as one of the 50 Coolest Websites of 2005 by the Time Magazine. The same year, it also received the Best Research Site award by an international delegation of museum professionals.
2. British Library
Catalogue: More than 150 million
Annual Budget: £141 million
The British Library situated on the Euston Road, London in one of the major research libraries in the world. Prior to its establishment in 1973, the library was a part of the British Museum, which was eventually axed and merged with few smaller institutions such as National Central Library to form a national library following the Library Act of 1972.
Library’s most important historical collection includes many rare manuscripts of Sir Hans Sloane and Robert Jarley. It also includes King’s Library (collection of books assembled by King George III) and Old Royal Library.
The British library has a strong online presence. Its online image gallery gives you access to more than 30,000 pictures from ancient and medieval books, including a special “turn the virtual pages” facility of few famous books and documents like Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.
1. Library of Congress
Image Courtesy: loc.gov
Catalogue: 164 million+
Annual Budget: US$642.4 million
The famous Library of Congress is without a doubt the largest library in the world. It is also the oldest and one of the biggest cultural institution in the United States. Most of the collected items here are universal – from different parts of the world in over 450 languages. According to its official website, about two thirds of total books acquired every year are in foreign languages (other than English).
As per current data, the library houses 38 million printed materials, about 3.6 million sound recordings, 14 million and more images, 70 million rare manuscripts and about 5.5 million of maps. It also contains millions of unclassified or special materials.
Each year, the library gets about $6 million specifically for digitization. To this date about 15 million library items are digitized, however, they represent less than 10% of library’s total items. The LOC also gives online access to U.S Congressional proceedings at TOMAS database, which includes summaries, bill text and the U.S Constitution.