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The 25 Most Modern Libraries in the World

Posted on Wednesday July 2, 2008 by Staff Writers

Libraries aren’t just musty places to store books with librarians shushing anyone who makes a peep. They’ve become much more than that and the modern library is often home to sleek architecture and the latest technology. These 25 libraries, in no particular order, demonstrate how libraries have become part of the cutting edge of academia, information management, design and Web technology, and all of them can help you get some ideas on how to bring your library into the future.

Architecture

While traditional libraries still abound, these libraries have opted to create spaces that are modern and user friendly.

  1. Library of Picture Books in Iwaki City of Fukushima Prefecture: This library challenges the old ideas of what a library space should be. Integrated into the landscape with beautiful views from almost everywhere, this library is bright, airy and free from the stodginess that infects many older institutions. Books are arranged in cubicles, with their colorful covers exposed encouraging children to pick them up and read them. Changing the face of educational institutions from quiet, controlled places to playful and free places help bring libraries into the modern era and instill a love of reading in children.
  2. Det Kongelige Bibliotek: The Danish Royal Library, or the Black Diamond as it’s often called due to the shape of the building, is a modern facility inside and out. Featuring cutting edge design by Danish architects schmidt hammer lassen, it employs marble and glass to create a distinctive form on the outside. The design continues to the inside, with open spaces and playful walkways. Of course, the collections are extensive as well, with loads of online resources, old manuscripts, a large number of photographs, and access to a number of IT resources.
  3. Bibliotheque Nationale de France: Some have suggested that the French National Library is a bit too modern, creating a sterile space too cold for people and unfriendly to books. While not all would agree, the library does attempt to create a wholly modern approach to library space, focusing on computers more than books, including services from four super computers. Of course, it does have quite a few flaws as well, as the ultra modern building designed by Francois Mitterrand isn’t easy to navigate and none of the services offered by the library are available without a cost. If anything, this building is a lesson in creating modern spaces that aren’t just focused on design but on function as well.
  4. Seattle Public Library: This award winning building designed by Rem Koolhaas is the central home of Seattle’s library system. Modern on both the inside and the out, the library creates an easy-to-navigate and unique space for readers, browsers and students alike. The library doesn’t just look modern, however; it’s filled with loads of technological features as well. The library employs an RFID system that allows patrons to check out their own materials and leaves library staff free to deal with other matters as well as working with online resources and creating their own podcast.
  5. Malmo City Library: This bright, glass enclosed Swedish library was designed by Henning Larsen. It employs design that is both functional and attractive while embracing many modern features that help the library run more smoothly and efficiently as well. The new FKI Logistex self-service check-in kiosks allow books to be checked in without the assistance of library staff, visitors use internet and other computer services, and plans have been made to link library data nationwide to make finding and using materials easier and more efficient. Perhaps most notably, the library offers the ability to check out a person for a 45-minute chat in an attempt to promote understanding and break down stereotypes.
  6. Geisel Library: This library isn’t particularly modern in function, but is notable for its design which resembles a large metal and glass treehouse. The library boasts several stories and is home to five of UCSD’s on campus libraries. It shows that libraries can be innovative and sometimes even notable parts of the architecture of cities, countries and universities.
  7. Halmstad Library: For a library that blurs the line between the indoors and outdoors, check out this Swedish design. Built to extend over the nearby Nissan River, the building is bright and airy, allowing in plenty of light. An atrium at the center of the building surrounds an existing chestnut tree, bringing a bit of the outdoors into the library’s interior spaces and creating an innovative and soothing library experience.
  8. National Library of the Czech Republic: While this library is still in the conceptual stages only, it represents one of the most distinctive and unique architectural plans for a library in the world. The current design for the library is an organic green form resembling a hill, a blob, or some say, an octopus. Created to blend in with the surrounding landscape while providing bright and thoroughly modern interior spaces, the library reflects an increasing attitude of playfulness and daring when it comes to design, hopefully reflecting the attitudes within the library as well.

Technology and Innovation

These libraries have found new and creative ways to use technology and design.

  1. DOK (Delft Public Library): Billed as a “library concept center” rather than a traditional library, this Dutch library takes modern libraries to a new level. Filled with bright colors and sleek modern design, this library makes use of professionally designed graphics, comfy furniture and shelving made from recyclable materials. Patrons have access not only to traditional books but to video games, listening stations, toys for kids to play with, comic books, a piano and even an art collection. On the technology side, the library is wired to deliver a text message to your phone when you enter, welcoming you. Additionally, books and cards use RFID, LCD screens around the building filled with information, stations for podcasting and videocasting and what is planned to be a “genius bar” to give technology help to the public.
  2. Turku City Library: This modern library building in Finland is full of all the normal resources found in libraries like books, DVDs, CDs, and magazines but with one big difference. While most libraries are organized by the type of material, putting books in one place and DVDs in another, the Turku library is arranged entirely by subject, putting all related materials together in one place. Staff placed in the sections are specialists in each subject, and patrons are able to check out their own books with automated machines.
  3. Bow Idea Store: This library is yet another that is taking a different approach to what a library is, preferring to call itself an Idea Store rather than a library. The idea is to combine traditional service provided by libraries with access to technology and lifelong learning opportunities. The library wants to not only provide resources, but to educate and improve the lives of those in the community. Patrons are encouraged to hang out in the library, meet friends, have coffee at the cafe and pursue hobbies using the library’s resources.
  4. Cerritos Library: Called the “Experience Library,” Cerritos was designed to be an open and modern space that takes a different approach to library services. The library is home to more than books and also includes a saltwater aquarium, sculptures by Dale Chihuly and a replica of a T-Rex fossil encouraging exploration and the pursuit of knowledge. Rooms in the library are designed by themes ranging from Old World reading to World traditions. Info Stations are located around the library to help assist patrons in finding what they need, and the local intranet allows users to customize their viewing experience. Additional technology in the library is found in the huge multimedia lab, thousands of laptop stations, wireless headsets and computers for librarians and an RFID tracking system for books.
  5. Cuyahoga County Public Library: Ranked as the top library by Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings in 2006, this Cleveland, Ohio, library works to keep up to date with the latest technologies. Their website was ranked as the best by Ektron in 2006 and gives patrons the ability to access their accounts, purchase tickets to library events and much more. The library also offers text message delivery of library notices, the first in the nation to offer this service. The library offers access to 85 colleges and universities through its online OhioLink program as well as a host of other Ohio libraries, greatly increasing the number of resources patrons can draw upon. If that weren’t enough, the library also participates in a podcasting program and places videos of speakers and visitors to the library online for all patrons to enjoy.
  6. Pace University Library: This university library in New York has made it easier than ever to get access to library materials. The library was granted the Library of the Future award for an innovative media network it has implemented. An internal streaming system called MediaPatch allows the library to share various types of media across campuses quickly and easily, allowing patrons at one branch to access the resources from another at the touch of a button. This solves several copyright concerns as the information never leaves the school’s secure servers but still allows distance learners and those in the classroom to quickly and easily access information. The library also participates in a podcasting program designed to cover a variety of subjects.
  7. Richmond Public Library: Billed as the “library of the future” when it was opened in 1998, the Richmond Public Library’s Ironwood Branch employs a modern design that attempts to bring together technological resources with a comfortable and warm environment. A large computer center, laptop stations and a digital resource center form a large part of the library. There are also numerous listening stations for music, a quiet study room, a large children’s section and a huge Chinese language collection to reflect the area’s large Asian population. The library also uses express check out stations so librarians are free to do other things, and the library boasts a huge online collection of resources.
  8. Denver Public Library: The Denver Public Library, housed in a whimsical modern facility designed by Michael Graves, has worked to make the Internet a major part of its operations, even having its own MySpace site. The library also has an extensive webpage, a podcasting series, and a huge digital download site. Users of the digital downloads can get audio books, online movies and ebooks for use on their computer or MP3 player. Additional modern conveniences include Denver Library Firefox plug-ins, an iGoogle catalog gadget, and a toolbar for IE.
  9. San Diego Public Library: This library was one of the first to embrace wireless technology, offering free wifi at all of its locations. The website for the library is extensive with services for live online homework help, a variety of ebooks and audio books, online assistance and more. Sleek modern design at its present location, plans to build an ultra modern facility and self checkout systems help make this a modern facility.
  10. Cleveland Public Library: The Cleveland Public Library offers patrons a wide range of downloadable materials on its website including audio books, ebooks, music and video. The library is part of a network of libraries in Ohio and offers patrons access to materials not only at the main location but at other locations as well. The library works with a NetNotice plan sending information on the library or reserved materials directly to patrons’ inboxes. Additionally, the library has an iGoogle gadget for its catalog, a Twitter feed, and participates in the Library Elf notification program.
  11. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh: This library is one that is making big strides to be different than the traditional library. With online services that provide patrons with online chat with librarians, an RSS feed, a blog, podcasts, online requests, downloadable media and more, the library is making the move into the next century. Of course, their services extend beyond the web with career classes, gaming competitions and self checkout kiosks on site to keep patrons engaged as well. The library has made an effort to reach out to teens with MySpace and Facebook pages, gaming nights, art and anime clubs and a variety of teen centered programs and organizations.
  12. New York Public Library: The New York Public Library is one of the largest in the nation offering patrons access to millions of books, periodicals, CDs and more. It also offers a large number of digitized collections that include images, prints and photographs. The library worked with Google to create a selection of digital books and offers patrons a large number of online text collections. The library is also highly tech savvy with an active RSS feed as well as podcasts on iTunes U. Patrons can download ebooks, video and audio directly from the website or enjoy video storybooks, video on demand and webcasts as well.

Digital Collections

These libraries boast extensive digital collections.

  1. National Diet Library: Japan’s National Diet Library provides a huge online catalog system so that it’s easy to locate and request many of the library’s materials. Users of the catalog can search the library’s entire collection from anywhere in the world, with sites in both English and Japanese. This service allows anyone to request materials from the library. Perhaps more impressive, however, is the library’s digital collection of Meiji era books, numbering around 60,000. Users can search through these and see actual digital images of the materials. Additional online collections include almost 37,000 rare books from the pre-Edo periods of Japan, making researches of Japanese history easier for those who cannot physically travel to Japan.
  2. Bavarian State Library: Located in Munich, this large library was named Germany’s library of the year last year. It’s part of a nationwide program called Libraries-Link which serves as an access portal to all of Germany’s libraries making it easy to find information on any library. Additionally, it has partnered with Google to scan and make public many works that are public domain. The library is home to many rare books, numerous online databases and journals and a fast and nationwide resource search program. The library is working to digitize much of the rarer elements of its huge collection so that those within Germany and around the world can enjoy them from anywhere.
  3. Library of Congress: The Library of Congress has some of the most impressive online collections of material that you will find anywhere. With materials ranging from historical photographs to sheet music, the library offers high quality digital images of tens of thousands of items from its collection. The library’s American Memory site provides visitors with a visual, audio and historical account of some of the most important events in American history. Visitors to the site can also search through the library’s catalog, request materials, and get detailed information on the goings on of congressional matters. In 2005, the library announced plans to begin putting together a World Digital Library that will put together important text, photographs, rare books and recordings from cultures all over the world.
  4. The British Library: As one of the largest and most prestigious libraries in the world, the British library has loads of resources to offer researchers and patrons from all over the world. The library has access to its complete catalog online so that anyone can see what materials the library holds. Of course, online resources are much more extensive than this. The sound archive has placed over 4,200 hours of archival sound recordings online for download. The main online collections are housed in the digital library which contains rare items like Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks. There are approximately one hundred million items available digitally, including journals, patents, dissertations, reports and more.
  5. National Library of Australia: The National Library of Australia is Australia’s largest reference library, providing access to millions of items related to Australia and cultures abroad. This library is a world leader in digital preservation techniques and has so far digitized over 105,000 items from its collection including a range of photos, maps, manuscripts, books, sheet music and audio recordings. These materials are accessible to patrons both in Australia and around the world.