“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future,” wrote Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, the ultimate book defenders’ manifesto. Dating back thousands of years, through Egyptian, Greek, Persian and Roman history, libraries have always served as bastions of civilization, protectors of free thought and breeding grounds of ideas. And throughout history, architects have designed libraries as vast and awe-inspiring as the miles of books they house. A new, lavish coffee-table book, Libraries, pays homage to 44 of these vaults of wisdom around the world. In these photos, spines of shelved books appear like ornate mosaics; labyrinthine stacks seem like architectural gestures.
“We, as architects, have a unique opportunity to design libraries which support new ways for people to meet, interact, and share knowledge,” architect Bjarne Hammer writes in the book’s forward. From the centuries-old Trinity College Dublin library, which bears striking resemblance to the Jedi Archives in Star Wars, to the ultra-modern Seattle Central Library, with its latticed metallic façade, these cathedrals of knowledge are varied in their outward designs, but serve the same vitally important end: to empower people by making books free and accessible.
This visual celebration of libraries past and present bodes well for their future–perhaps libraries will even outlive us all, as Jorge Luis Borges predicted in Labyrinths: “I suspect that the human species–the unique species–is about to be extinguished, but the Library will endure,” he wrote, “illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret.”