For dedicated readers, all a library needs to be exciting are some well-stocked shelves of books. But as Denmark’s award-winning new “citizen space” shows, libraries can come in all kinds of creative and unusual forms. Here are eight libraries from around the world sure to intrigue bookworms.
The graveyard library
The Jewish cemetery in the Austrian town of Krems an der Donau was desecrated by Nazis, with all written records and some burial stones lost. Today, in addition to a 42-meter-long memorial showing the names of 127 local Jews who were murdered or displaced during the Holocaust, the graveyard contains a series of bookshelves–a project by artists Michael Clegg and Martin Guttmann. The Open Library consists of three bookshelves in the size and shape of gravestones, with glass doors protecting books in English, German and Hebrew about Jewish philosophy and the history of death.
The library that straddles international borders
The Haskell Free Library, which opened in 1905 and includes an opera house, lies on the border of the United States and Canada. The entrance from Derby Line, Vermont, is on Caswell Avenue; the entrance from Stanstead, Quebec, is on Church Street. A black line demarcating the border between the two countries cuts diagonally across the reading room floor, which contains a mix of French and English books. Because you don’t have to go through customs to enter the library (as long as you exit the same way you entered), border patrol has caught some criminals attempting to use the library for nefarious purposes.
The library inside a former Walmart
Everything’s bigger in Texas, and that includes its libraries. The McAllen Public Library took over an old Walmart for its new 123,000-square-foot main branch, four times the size of its previous location. (The big box store had moved into a larger space down the street.) After a $24 million renovation completed in 2011, the border city of McAllen now boasts the largest single floor public library in the United States, which was also recently named the most beautiful library in Texas.
The “Weapons of Mass Instruction”
Argentine artist Raul Lemesoff turned a 1979 Ford Falcon into a tank-like “Weapon of Mass Instruction” (Arma de Instrucción Masiva). He’s driven the car all around the country, to schools, slums and rural areas, delivering free donated books to anyone who wants them. The Argentinian car can carry up to 2,500 books, and Lemesoff also has built book cars in the United States and Holland. The choice of the Falcon is meaningful: During Argentina’s military dictatorship in the 1970s and ‘80s, death squads commonly used Falcons to kidnap citizens.
The book-loving camel
Author Jambyn Dashdondog has operated the Children’s Mobile Library of Mongolia for more than 20 years, traveling across the vast country by camel, horse and now van. He brings books to kids in provinces without access to libraries, sometimes staying in one location for days so the children can read as many books as they can. Since 2011, he’s gotten support from the charity Go Help.
Books on bikes
The Pima County Public Library is taking another mobile approach to reaching patrons. The system’s three Bookbikes can be found at community events around Tucson, Ariz., distributing free books and library cards. Many more library systems have now geared up to go mobile in the past five years, including Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Sacramento.
Elementary school teacher Luis Soriano is famous in northern Colombia for riding his two donkeys, Alfa and Beto, around the countryside on weekends. His Biblioburros have brought books and hope to poor children in the drug-war-torn area for nearly 20 years. Soriano has now built a foundation to build a permanent library in his hometown of La Gloria to house the more than 5,000 books he’s collected.
Reading inside the box
The administration of the public library in Nice, France, is hidden inside a giant surrealist sculpture of a blockhead. Artist Sacha Sosno, who worked in Nice until his death in 2013, designed it to be the largest occupied sculpture in the world. The striking sculpture is 28 meters high, containing seven floors.
Library lovers can find even more places to add to their bucket lists in Improbable Libraries: A Visual Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Libraries by Alex Johnson.