Best libraries around the world: Where to find the most beautiful libraries

In this digital age, a beautiful library is a rare and precious thing.

In Dublin last year, I visited one of the city's highlights, the splendid Trinity College library, which contains among its treasures the Book of Kells, the elaborately illustrated manuscript of New Testament gospels that dates back to 800 AD.

The library's 60-metre Long Room with its barrel vaulted ceiling, spiral staircases and tall stacks of deliciously ancient-smelling bound books is justifiably one of the most beloved libraries in the world. If you line up early and get in there before the crowds, it's almost a religious experience, like visiting a cathedral.

I've adored libraries ever since my mother worked in a tiny local library at the Bellevue shops in Melbourne. I'd loll about between the bookshelves with a stack of books and work my way through them.

Later on, even when I didn't need to go there to study, I'd sit in the majestic Latrobe Reading Room of the State Library of Victoria. Its long lamp-lit tables and galleries of books catalogued under a high, glass-windowed dome always sent my imagination soaring.

Happily for bibliophiles like me, there are many beautiful libraries around the world that are preserved, such as the Marciana Library in Venice, which dates to 1537 and contains a collection of 750,000 books, 30,000 manuscripts and 2400 prints, plus works by Tintoretto and Titian. This library's collection is vast because printers over the centuries were obliged to donate one copy of every edition to the library.

Then there's the Austrian National Library in Vienna, formerly the palace library until it was made public in 1920. Built in 1723, it is madly Baroque, covered in frescoes and lined with statues. Perhaps that's all a bit distracting for readers, but beautiful nevertheless.

The Biblioteca Joanina in the UNESCO-listed University of Coimbra-Alta and Sofia, Portugal, is another Baroque fantasy with three floors housing 250,000 volumes (and a colony of bats). This library is interesting because it has the remains of the old palace jail, the last medieval jail remaining in Portugal, inside its walls.

The grand New York Public Library with its guardian lions I know and love. But even the fustiest old library has a great deal of charm. It's the scent of books and old binding that I adore.

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Not that they ever went away for me, but books are back. People have realised that they retain more when they read printed books rather than e-books. The book itself as an object has new cachet, so much so that many hotels have started introducing libraries into their public spaces. The craze for libraries almost matches the craze for hotel spas in the 1990s. There are few contemporary hotel renovations that don't include some kind of selection of books or dedicated space for reading. Maybe the zeitgeist values ideas.

The Ambassade Hotel in Amsterdam showcases hundreds of books signed by authors who have stayed at the hotel, such as Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison. The NoMad in New York has a sensational Library Bar, lined floor-to-ceiling with books and including a spiral staircase imported from a bookshop in France. La Reserve in Paris has one of the most beautiful libraries of rare and interesting books I've ever seen in a hotel.

Beyond this, there are whole hotels that are library-themed. The Library Hotel in New York has rooms based on the Dewey Decimal System and books relating to that subject (psychology, logic, romance languages) stacked in the rooms. The Library in Koh Samui is true to its name, with an impressive library of books for guests whose idea of a perfect holiday is having time curl up with one.

I once stayed in the Library Suite in the Connaught, London. It had an entire library with fireplace upstairs from the bedroom. Needless to say, I was in heaven, although there was not nearly enough time to read all those books.

Even more attractive for bibliophiles, Gladstone's Library is a hotel in North Wales that doesn't call itself a hotel, but "UK's finest residential library." The library has 26 guest rooms and a collection of 250,000 books. Founded by British Prime Minister William Gladstone in the 19th century, it is one of the most important research libraries in Wales. The library includes cosy reading rooms where many writers have worked and hosts a number of events and courses.

The death of books, to paraphrase Mark Twain, has been greatly exaggerated.

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