British Library

Love the layover: five libraries worth a visit

Note: My story – Leaf through a library on your next trip – first appeared on Travel.

New library in Stuttgart, Germany

E-readers such as Kindle or Nook may be hot holiday gifts this season, but that doesn’t mean libraries are a thing of the past. In fact, with architecturally significant buildings, exhibitions and a wide range of amenities, the public libraries in many cities rank alongside museums and other cultural attractions as must-see destinations for many travelers.

Here are five libraries worth a visit:

Stuttgart Central Library, Stuttgart, Germany
Officially dedicated at the end of November, the new central library in Stuttgart, Germany, has joined the Mercedes-Benz Museum as a major local attraction. Designed by Korean architect Eun Young Yi, the Stadtbibliothek is a nine-story, cubed, glass block structure that looks staid and grey during the day but glows iridescent blue at night. Inside, an open, all-white floor plan pushes the books to the perimeter, surrounding the children’s library and the multi-zoned reading, research and gathering spaces.

Don’t miss: To emphasize that this new facility is open to all, the word “Library” is written in English on the outer wall of one side of the building and written in German, Korean and Arabic on the other three.

Central Library, Seattle, Washington
When it opened in 2004, the New York Times’ Herbert Muschamp described the downtown Central Library in Seattle, Wash., as “a blazing chandelier to swing your dreams upon.”

Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rem Koolhaas, the unusually-shaped steel and glass building with 30 miles of books arranged in an ingenious ‘Books Spiral’ has become one of the city’s most visited attractions. “More than 2 million people visit the Central Library year,” said Seattle Public Library spokesperson Andra Allison. “You can’t go anywhere in the building without seeing tourists with cameras.”

Don’t miss:
Take a guided or self-guided tour, but don’t miss the view from the 10th floor.

British Library, London
With more than 150 million items, London’s British Library is one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive. In addition to public tours and events, the library displays world treasures from a collection that includes the 1215 Magna Carta, Leonardo da Vinci’s notes on architecture and arithmetic, illuminated manuscripts and Shakespeare’s First Folio.

Don’t miss: Current exhibitions explore the role of supernatural phenomena in the work of Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘lost’ novel.

Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark

Founded in 1648, Denmark’s Royal Library holds printed Danish works dating back to 1482. The original 1906 library building on Copenhagen’s harbor was expanded in 1999 with an angular, shiny black granite addition now referred to as the Black Diamond. Today, the library is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions and is home to the National Museum of Photography, a 600-seat concert hall with its own 10-member ensemble, a garden, a roof-top terrace and several exhibition spaces.

Don’t miss: Public tours of the old and new library buildings are offered each Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.

Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland
Dublin’s Trinity College Library is Ireland’s largest. It’s also one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions, mostly because the library is home to the Book of Kells, a lavishly decorated, four-volume illuminated manuscript created by Celtic monks in the 9th century. Two volumes are displayed to the public at a time: one is open to a significant, decorated page; another shows two pages of script.

Don’t miss: In addition to the Book of Kells and other related manuscripts, visitors may tour the library’s Long Room, which contains oak bookcases filled with 200,000 of the library’s oldest books, a collection of marble busts depicting writers, philosophers and men connected with the college and Ireland’s oldest harp, which dates to the 15th century.

Which special libraries have you visited in your travels? Add your suggestion below.

Souvenir Sunday: What would Alice do?

Although she didn’t really mean to, Alice – of Alice on Wonderland fame – ended up going on one of the wildest travel adventures ever “documented.”

Want to see the original notes of her journey?  The British Library happens to have the first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well Galileo’s letters, Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks, manuscript scores from classical composers such as Handel, Purcell, Mozart and Schubert, and lots more.

Can’t just pop over to London to take a look-see? The next best thing might just be the British Library’s new smartphone app (iPad, iPhone, Android) which lets you page through more than 100 of the library’s treasures, including Jane Austen’s teenage writings, maps, scientific papers, an original Magna Carta 1215 and audio clips from historical figures such as Nelson Mandela.

The app isn’t free; it costs $3.99 for iPhone, iTouch and Android ($5.99 for the iPad), but there’s an introductory offer of $1.99 ($3.99 for the iPad) through January 24, 2011.

Not sure it’s worth 2 bucks?  Here’s a really lovely video that includes a sampling of what you’ll get to see on the app.

I’ve downloaded the program, but haven’t had much time to play around with it. When I do, I hope I’ll find photos and more information the world’s smallest atlas and some of the other teeny tiny books in the British Library’s collection.

Tidbits for travelers: airport taxi sharing, Austin art, and marvelous maps

Even with all the free deals you can find on, a trip to New York City can be quite spendy. So it’s welcome news that the Wall Street Journal reports that New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commissioner is thinking of expanding a popular, cost-saving taxi sharing program to LaGuardia Airport (and possibly JFK) and he Port Authority bus terminal.  Good idea!

Art at Austin Airport

(Collin Scott’s clay bust titled, “Neolithic Cuneiform Subconscious.”)

The Austin Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) has rolled out yet another intriguing art exhibit. This one features work from the Lost Pines Artisan Alliance (LPAA), including a wide variety of three dimensional media ranging from ceramics and cast bronze, to wood and fabric fibers.  The exhibit is on display through July 14, 2010, post-security in the concourse glass pylons located between Gates 7 – 11.

Grab a map for London

And there are two exhibitions about maps in London right now that have me checking airfares and flight schedules.

Drawing from a collection of more than four million maps and loaned specimens, Magnificant Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art, at the British Library, shows off “80 of the largest, most impressive and beautiful maps ever made, from 200 AD to the present day.”

Among the treasures on display are the 17th-century Klencke Atlas (above), which is said to be the world’s largest book, and the world’s smallest atlas, which was created for Queen Mary’s dolls-house.

And in Creative Compass, at the Royal Geographical Society, artists Agnes Poitevin-Navarre and Susan Stockwell take inspiration from the society’s collection of more than one million maps, three thousand atlases and half a million photographs to create a map of Afghanistan made from US dollars, a map of Londoner’s aspirations and achievements,  a Victorian dress recreated with 19th century maps and other art pieces.

Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art is at the British Library through September 19th, 2010. Admission: free. Creative Compass opens May 6th and runs through July 2nd at the Royal Geographical Society.  Also free.