The smell of old books and the dusty corners of local libraries are things we rank high on the list of irreplaceable feel-good things in life.
However, stepping out to get to a library is not feasible right now in the middle of a pandemic. Bibliophiles are being forced to find alternatives for this. Enter virtual libraries. These will give you the much-needed hit of a space filled with books. They are also easy to access, invaluable sources of reference, and stocked to the gills with books, music records, and audio-books that you will not get elsewhere.
A bonus? The 360-degree tours of these virtual libraries also let you wander through stunning spaces with gorgeous architectural details.
From the hundreds of thousands of digitised libraries you can find online, here are 7 virtual libraries that we really liked.
The Klementinum Library
This 17th-century library in Prague, Czechia, is an aesthetic marvel. Take the 360-degree tour and get lost between shelves of theological literature beneath a ceiling of stunning frescoes. Along with terrestrial and celestial globes, the library is home to over 20,000 books. Check out the public reading room, and the astronomical tower, flanked by frescoes that will remind you of Renaissance-period art.
Built over 400 years ago, these libraries in Oxford are home to over 12 million books. Its digital platform is one of the largest, though the records are a little clunkier to navigate. Don’t be surprised if the Bodleian looks familiar. After all, its cameos in the Harry Potter franchise was a standout.
The Library of Alexandria in Egypt is a reminder of a devastating fire that resulted in the loss of irreplaceable literature. The library has since been rebuilt several times. The current building is a massive complex of book and artifacts. In fact, it is the only physical back-up of the internet archive on the planet. The sheer size of it is jaw-dropping.
Admont Abbey Library
The world’s largest monastic library, Admont Abbey, has a 230-foot-long main hall with frescoes and two massive reliefs. For a fee, you can take the tour and explore its secret passageways, while listening to audio guides. You can also save digitised copies of some of the oldest books.
New York Public Library
With nearly 890,000 digitised items, the New York Public Library’s collection is one of the largest in the world. Its shelves are rich with archives and manuscripts, books, photographs, and even a collection of over 17,000 restaurant menus. The library’s main branch is located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Don't miss the two marble lion statues—known as Patience and Fortitude—at the enrance.
King’s College Library
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Established in 1441, this university library holds notable collections of rare volumes, medieval manuscripts, and incunabula, or early printed books. Take the online tour and explore the all-wood labyrinthine space. Don't miss the Rowe Music Library on the second floor which holds scores of English music from the 18th-century.
A.K. Smiley Public Library
Compared to the rest on the list, this is a small library. Dating back to 1898, this public library is a historical landmark and an architectural jewel located in the city of Redlands in California. It is built with red bricks with hand-cut sandstone trimmings. Take the 360-degree virtual tour and wander around its reading nooks alongside its old ceilings and windows that depict various symbols associated with libraries and learning. One can explore the bookstore in the basement, to catch a glimpse of ‘Swimmy’ the fish, who is the store mascot and a card-carrying member of the library.