New Birmingham Library
New Birmingham Library

7 of the most beautiful libraries in the UK and Ireland

Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell has reminded us to not take libraries for granted, says Prudence Wade.

Prudence Wade
Tuesday 13 April 2021 11:06

Many of us have rediscovered a love of reading in lockdown, but haven’t been able to enjoy doing so in our local library. Now, as restrictions begin to ease in some areas, we’ll hopefully be able to go back to perusing library shelves again.

Writer and Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell has reminded us how precious these spaces are, signing an open letter to the British Prime Minister asking him to ring-fence funding for primary school libraries in particular.

Libraries can broaden our minds and transport us to different places – and it certainly helps if they’re in a special building. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, not all of these libraries are currently open, so it’s worth checking your area’s guidelines before visiting. At the very least, you can walk past and gawk at the exteriors of these impressive buildings…

1. Peckham Library

London’s Peckham Library was opened in 2000 and designed by Will Alsop. The unusual shape is an inverted L, with the lip of the building propped up by angled pillars. The majority of the exterior is clad in copper, with one side featuring colourful glass windows.

Inside Peckham Library

The interior is just as striking, with individual pods sitting on tripods within the main library space. It won the prestigious Stirling Prize for Architecture the year it opened.

2. The National Library of Ireland

It doesn’t get more majestic than the reading room of the National Library of Ireland in Dublin. Visitors can settle down with a book beneath an ornate vaulted dome, decorated in blue, green and gold detailing.

The exterior isn’t too shabby either – designed by Thomas Newenham Deane and finished in 1877, it’s an intricately decorated rotunda.

3. The National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh

The National Library of Scotland (NLS) is housed in a suitably dramatic Edinburgh building. Eventually finished in 1958 – after delays due to World War II – and designed by Reginald Fairlie, the imposing stone facade is decorated with sculptures.

4. Library of Birmingham

Situated in Centenary Square, this futuristic building appears as differently sized blocks stacked atop each other, with a gold and silver facade of interlocking rings – a nod to Birmingham’s metalworking history.

The library was designed by Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo and was opened in 2013. Rooftop terraces give visitors views over the square, and the golden rotunda at the top of the building is home to the Shakespeare Memorial Room – designed in 1882 and part of Birmingham’s first Central Library.

5. Linen Hall Library

Linen Hall Library is the oldest library in Belfast, dating back to 1788. The facade might not immediately take your breath away – an unobtrusive white arch leads you in from the street – but the interior will.

Inside, you’ll be transported back in time, with sweeping wooden spiral staircases, intricate metal balustrades and hefty bookshelves.

6. Liverpool Central Library

Liverpool’s main library is a celebration of both old and new. Half the site – including the facade – is housed in classical buildings dating back to the 1800s.

Inside Liverpool Central Library

It’s a different story when you walk through the entrance. The revamp was unveiled in 2013, giving the library a sweeping new atrium over five storeys, with staircases floating across the vast space.

7. The Long Room at Trinity College

The Old Library at Trinity College Dublin is a must-see, particularly for its historic Long Room. It’s been a working library since 1732, and is home to the 9th century Book of Kells and a whole lot of moody wooden beams.

This probably isn’t the kind of library you’d head to for the latest Bridgerton book – but it’s worth it to ogle the impressive architecture.