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View Full Version : What is the greatest library in modern times?



Lord Jubjub
2010-Nov-10, 01:02 AM
I'm thinking either Library of Congress (U.S.) or the Vatican.

kleindoofy
2010-Nov-10, 01:09 AM
Define "great."

What are your criteria?

Size of the building, number of books, architecture of the building, quality of the collection, age of the collection, diversity of the collection, completeness in a special category?

Lord Jubjub
2010-Nov-10, 01:14 AM
Yes

Edit: Mainly the expanse and depth of the collected works--both in terms of time, knowledge and philosophy.

The Library of Alexandria probably never contained, at any one time, the breadth of written works that modern libraries have today.

HenrikOlsen
2010-Nov-10, 01:34 AM
Number of books that can be borrowed?

slang
2010-Nov-10, 01:40 AM
The Internet.

kleindoofy
2010-Nov-10, 01:55 AM
... The Library of Alexandria ...
My personal opinion is that if we were to find an exact copy of the Library of Alexandria today, we would 1) be terribly disappointed, 2) would discover that it didn't contain much that we don't know about, at least nothing important or exciting.

Now, the Library of Congress certainly has a fantastic collection, but as far as architecture is concerned, one will have problems beating the library at the Benedictine Abbey Melk in Austria:

http://www.wissenswerkstatt.net/wp-content/2008/03/Bibliothek,%20Melk,%2001a.jpg

mike alexander
2010-Nov-10, 02:01 AM
Never been there, but the Bodleian in Oxford must be near the top.

I believe you have to swear an oath before being granted admittance.

HenrikOlsen
2010-Nov-10, 02:17 AM
I believe you have to swear an oath before being granted admittance.

Do fidem me nullum librum vel instrumentum aliamve quam rem ad bibliothecam pertinentem, vel ibi custodiae causa depositam, aut e bibliotheca sublaturum esse, aut foedaturum deformaturum aliove quo modo laesurum; item neque ignem nec flammam in bibliothecam inlaturum vel in ea accensurum, neque fumo nicotiano aliove quovis ibi usurum; item promitto me omnes leges ad bibliothecam Bodleianam attinentes semper observaturum esse.

Or for common barbarians it's enough to sign the declaration:

I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.
Though for people who want to, there's a ceremony where they can speak the oath too.

The Bod has about 11 million books.
The Library of Congress has about 22 million books and about 120 million other items.

Swift
2010-Nov-10, 02:39 AM
I was always partially to The Main Branch of the New York Public Library (http://b5media_b4.s3.amazonaws.com/61/files/2008/01/nypl.jpg), but then it is genetic (my dad was a librarian) and my birthplace (born and raised in New York City, though only the raising was actually in the libraries).

Of other ones that I've visited, I have been very impressed by both the Library of Congress and the Library of the British Museum in London.

Gillianren
2010-Nov-10, 03:57 AM
My personal opinion is that if we were to find an exact copy of the Library of Alexandria today, we would 1) be terribly disappointed, 2) would discover that it didn't contain much that we don't know about, at least nothing important or exciting.

It's not what we don't know about that's such a big deal; it's what we don't have. I don't remember which play it is, but there's a Greek play (by Aristophanes, possibly?) which is full of references to other plays we've only been able to infer things about. We have reason to believe that copies of all of the missing plays would have been in the Library of Alexandria. Indeed, we have no reason not to. We know they existed, but they don't exist anymore.

And I consider this another unanswerable question, even leaving aside that I haven't even been to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, for more than a traveling exhibit about Abraham Lincoln. Our library here in Olympia, however, has a book about the greatest libraries in the world. And, yes, several of the ones mentioned here are in the book.

HenrikOlsen
2010-Nov-10, 04:45 AM
Ditto for a lot of the Greek mathematical works which are only known by reference in other works.

Nicolas
2010-Nov-10, 10:27 AM
If everything that ever was would still be around today, history would loose some of its charm, wouldn't it?

The library of Alexandria, the items it contained, the items of that era that still exist, are special partially because it is not evident that these items still exist today.

As far as libraries go: I haven't really visited anything noteworthy yet...Though I did find a very old Domesday in the library of some British castle. (find as in: it was just standing there in between all the other books). Also a very nice collection of books was an exposition of books from the pre-bookprinting age. The comments of the authors/copiers sometimes are very funny. You have to be a bit creative with language to read them, but then it becomes clear that humour hasn't changed all that much across the ages.

novaderrik
2010-Nov-10, 11:32 AM
The Internet.

this is the proper answer..
and it's probably the only library in the world where the "adults only" section is bigger than the rest of the library..

megrfl
2010-Nov-10, 01:48 PM
If you were to ask me what library had the greatest impact on me for its collection and beauty and for its influence on me regarding my love of books, I would have to say my high school's library.

It was an old architecturally unique library. I worked there as a student in this most wonderful office/check out desk. The office was narrow, almost like an afterthought or to secure more room for books, it was constructed of dark heavy wood. It was heaven.

Through out the library there were steps up and steps down to enter different sections, it was a welcoming place for both readers and writers. The entire school since has been demolished, they have now built an ultra modern high school in its place. Too bad.

Coming in second would have to be the The Library of Congress.

Swift
2010-Nov-10, 02:15 PM
If you were to ask me what library had the greatest impact on me for its collection and beauty and for its influence on me regarding my love of books, I would have to say my high school's library.

I love that answer. Certainly the libraries that influenced me the most were the neighborhood libraries in the various neighborhoods I grew up in, as well as my school libraries.

mike alexander
2010-Nov-10, 05:34 PM
I love that answer. Certainly the libraries that influenced me the most were the neighborhood libraries in the various neighborhoods I grew up in, as well as my school libraries.

Good point! I loved the Cleveland Heights Public Library because the science fiction was right in front and the spines had little yellow stickers with a red rocket piercing a stylized atom. The Mark of Quality.

Swift
2010-Nov-10, 06:07 PM
Good point! I loved the Cleveland Heights Public Library because the science fiction was right in front and the spines had little yellow stickers with a red rocket piercing a stylized atom. The Mark of Quality.
:lol: Those stickers must have been endorsed by the ALA (http://www.ala.org/), because both the NYPL and the Brooklyn Public Library used the same ones. :D

Gillianren
2010-Nov-10, 07:37 PM
I spent so much time in the library as a child that I babysat the children of one of the librarians once. The children's librarian was her go-to babysitter, but the kids had chicken pox and the librarian somehow never had. Indeed, I volunteered there a couple of summers, and I had to visit the library on my trips home or else the librarians never would have let Mom hear the end of it.

http://www.altadenalibrary.org/

Chuck
2010-Nov-10, 11:59 PM
I liked Carnegie Public Library in Pittsburgh when I lived nearby in the early 1970's. Their Science and Technology Department was kept meat-locker cold. It was a great place to read in the summer.

NEOWatcher
2010-Nov-11, 01:51 AM
My personal opinion is that if we were to find an exact copy of the Library of Alexandria today, we would 1) be terribly disappointed, 2) would discover that it didn't contain much that we don't know about, at least nothing important or exciting.
I think you have a key word in that statement..."WE"
I agree with the statement in a modern point of view, but for it's time, I'm sure it rivals what we have now.
Maybe the ratio of its information compared to the information of its society was smaller than today, but when you consider the way that information can be gathered, it gets more impressive.

Salty
2010-Nov-12, 06:27 AM
I've never visited a famous library nor the two in the OP.

But, like many of you, my school libraries and the old municipal library were places of wonder in my childhood. I remember, in the 6th grade i was in the first year of a new grade school. My twin and I were regulars at the municipal library and the older grade school hadn't had a library. When I found the library in the new grade school, I was awed that it had a library.
It's sad that the newer libraries seem to lack the style of the old libraries. Fort Worth's old library is gone, and the new one has already been renovated once since my return.

Jens
2010-Nov-12, 10:17 AM
How about the Library of Babel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Library_of_Babel)? Or does it have to be a real library in modern times? I think the library at Hogwarts would also be pretty cool to explore.

Gillianren
2010-Nov-12, 06:26 PM
The Unseen University Library--cool but dangerous. Bring bananas to bribe yourself a guide.

otakenji
2010-Nov-13, 04:48 AM
For an astronomer in Los Angeles, the library at the Carnagie Observatories Headquarters on Santa Barbara Street in Pasadena is a real treasure.

Githyanki
2010-Nov-13, 05:29 AM
The Internet.

.

Gillianren
2010-Nov-13, 06:08 AM
See, that assessment assumes that all a library needs to be great is to contain a lot of information. That there's nothing more to a library than that.

Paul Beardsley
2010-Nov-13, 08:29 AM
Well the Havant library is so up to date it's even got Captain Corelli's Mandolin on its shelves! Fantasy fans will be delighted to find books from various series - usually book 2 of a trilogy or book 3 of a 4-parter. And it's not just fiction. Need a book on computers? At Havant, there's a book that will answer all your questions about Windows XP.

And just to show how cutting-edge they are, they have a selection of PS2 games which you can hire for a week. The cost is not exorbitant - in fact it's about the price of the same game in a pre-owned shop.

So, move over, Alexandria!

dwnielsen
2010-Nov-13, 09:01 AM
Not the greatest, but since I grew up in Birmingham (Ala.), they're the ones I know. So why not a poor photo of one of the rooms in the old section of the central library there..

http://www.mediafire.com/i/?rwr0voxd5sutysw

(don't know if it will show up or not..)

slang
2010-Nov-13, 01:55 PM
See, that assessment assumes that all a library needs to be great is to contain a lot of information. That there's nothing more to a library than that.

Well, no, I know better than that. Although the OP wasn't entirely clear on it, I assumed he meant traditional libraries. But with the world turning into a more and more digital society, the reply was not entirely joking. In our local small library there is almost as much space used for freely available (Internet enabled) computers as for books.

Gillianren
2010-Nov-13, 06:37 PM
In ours, too, but there are also reference librarians whose whole job is to help you sort through that information. There are several physical objects of artistic or historical value; you don't get the same tactile sensations just looking at pictures of a green marble statue of otters. I don't think you can even get the same sense of scale. We don't have much of value, but the library system has some, and there's a heck of a lot more in other libraries. The school library at my alma mater, in addition to trained librarians and even work study people who take a special course in helping you with your term paper, has a rare books room. The librarian there was able to help me find (on microfiche, I admit) a book about Civil War battles from 1867. I probably could have found the same information online, but it's doubtful that anyone's bothered scanning the book, and it's almost certain that I wouldn't have found it on my own.

Solfe
2010-Nov-13, 07:25 PM
"The Library" from Doctor Who? :)

HenrikOlsen
2010-Nov-13, 09:42 PM
The interlibrary loan system.

JohnD
2010-Nov-13, 11:42 PM
The British Library!

If only for the minimalist URL: http://www.bl.uk/

John

publiusr
2010-Nov-15, 09:19 PM
I'm rather partial to this private library:
http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/magazine/16-10/ff_walker?currentPage=all
http://www.markfinlay.com/wired%20magazine%20oct%202008.html