Top Ten Libraries

Top Ten Libraries

  1. Vatican Library and Secret Archives

    The Vatican Library is the library of the Holy See, currently located in Vatican City. It is one of the oldest libraries in the world and contains one of the most significant collections of historical texts. Formally established in 1475, though in fact much older, it has 75,000 codices from throughout history. From July 2007, the library has been temporarily closed to the public for rebuilding, which is expected to be completed by September 2010. The Vatican Secret Archives, located in Vatican City, is the central repository for all of the acts promulgated by the Holy See. These archives also contain the state papers, correspondence, papal account books, and many other documents which the church has “accumulated” over the centuries. In the 17th century, under the orders of Pope Paul V, the Secret Archives were separated from the Vatican Library, where scholars had some very limited access to them, and remained absolutely closed to outsiders until 1881, when Pope Leo XIII opened them to researchers, of whom now more than a thousand examine its documents each year. The word “secret” in the title “Vatican Secret Archives” does not have the modern meaning: it indicates instead that the archives are the Pope’s own, not those of a department of the Roman Curia. The word “secret” was used in this sense also in phrases such as “secret servants,” “secret cupbearer,” or “secret carver.” The Vatican Secret Archives have been estimated to contain 52 miles (84 km) of shelving.
    Links: Top Ten Vatican City Attractions, Top Ten Italian Attractions,,
  2. The Library of Congress (1800 – Present)

    The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress and is the oldest federal cultural institution in the US. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and holds the largest number of books. The head of the Library is the Librarian of Congress, currently James H. Billington. The Library of Congress was established by Congress in 1800 and was housed in the US Capitol for most of the 19th century. After much of the original collection had been destroyed during the War of 1812, Thomas Jefferson sold 6,487 books to the library, his entire personal library, in 1815. After a period of decline during the mid-19th century the Library of Congress began to grow rapidly in both size and importance after the American Civil War, culminating in the construction of a separate library building and the transference of all copyright deposit holdings to the Library. During the rapid expansion of the 20th century the Library of Congress assumed a preeminent public role, becoming a “library of last resort” and expanding its mission for the benefit of scholars and the American people.
    Links: Top Ten US Attractions,,
  3. National Library of China

    The National Library of China in Beijing is the largest library in Asia, and one of the largest in the world with a collection of over 23 million volumes. It holds the largest and among the richest worldwide collections of Chinese literature and historical documents. The forerunner of the National Library of China, the Capital Library, was founded on 24 April 1909 by the Qing government. The name of the library was at that time ‘The Metropolitan Library.’ It was first formally opened after the Xinhai Revolution, in 1912. In 1916, the library received depository library status. In July 1928, its name was changed to National Beijing Library and was later changed to the National Library. The National Library of China’s collection inherited books and archives from the “Imperial Wenyuange Library” collection of the Qing Dynasty and that, in turn, included books and manuscripts from the library of the Southern Song Dynasty. The library also contains inscribed tortoise shells and bones, ancient manuscripts, and block-printed volumes. Among the most prized collections are rare and precious documents and records from past dynasties in Chinese history. The library also houses official publications of the United Nations and foreign governments and a collection of literature and materials in over 115 languages.
    Links: Top Ten Chinese Attractions, Top 100 Chinese Artifacts,,
  4. British Library (Previously The Cotton Library)

    The British Library is the national library of the UK and the world’s largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is one of the world’s major research libraries, holding over 150 million items in all known languages and formats: books, journals, newspapers, magazines, sound and music recordings, patents, databases, maps, stamps, prints, drawings and much more. While it holds more items in total, its book collection is second only to the American Library of Congress. The Library’s collections include around 14 million books, along with substantial additional collection of manuscripts and historical items dating back as far as 300 BC. As a legal deposit library, the library receives copies of all books produced in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, including all foreign books distributed in the UK. It also purchases many items which are only published outside Britain and Ireland. The British Library adds some three million items every year. The Library is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It is located on the north side of Euston Road in St Pancras, London, between Euston railway station and St Pancras railway station.
    Links: Top Ten English Attractions,,
  5. The Russian State Library

    The Russian State Library is the national library of Russia, located in Moscow. It is the largest in the country and the 3rd largest in the world for its collection of books (17.5 million). It was named the V. I. Lenin State Library of the USSR from 1925 until it was renamed in 1992 as the Russian State Library. The library has over 275 km of shelves with more than 43 million items, including over 17 million books and serial volumes, 13 million journals, 350 thousand music scores and sound records, 150,000 maps and others. There are items in 247 languages of the world, the foreign part representing about 29% of the entire collection. Between 1922 and 1991 at least one copy of every book published in the USSR was deposited with the library, a practice which continues in a similar method today, with the library designated by law as a place to hold a “mandatory” copy of every publication issued in Russia.
    Links: Top Ten Russian Attractions,,
  6. National Library of Russia

    The National Library of Russia in St Petersburg, known as the State Public Saltykov-Shchedrin Library from 1932 to 1992 (i.e. in the Soviet era), is the oldest public library in Russia. It should not be confused with the Russian State Library, located in Moscow.
    Links: Top Ten Russian Attractions, Top Ten Israeli Artifacts, Top 100 Symbols,
  7. Bodleian Library, Oxford (1602 – Present)

            The Bodleian Library, the main research library of the University of Oxford is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and in Britain is second in size only to the British Library. Known to Oxford scholars as “Bodley” or simply “the Bod,” under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 it is one of six legal deposit libraries for works published in the United Kingdom and under Irish Law it is entitled to request a copy of each book published in the Republic of Ireland. Though University members may borrow some books from dependent libraries (such as the Radcliffe Science Library), the Bodleian operates principally as a reference library and in general documents may not be removed from the reading rooms.
    Links: Top Ten English Attractions,
  8. Modern Library of Alexandria (Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Maktabat al-Iskandarīyah)

           The Bibliotheca Alexandrina or Maktabat al-Iskandarīyah is a major library and cultural center located on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. It is both a commemoration of the Library of Alexandria that was lost in antiquity, and an attempt to rekindle something of the brilliance that this earlier center of study and erudition represented.
    Links: Top Ten Egyptian Attractions, Artifacts, Top 100 Egyptian Artifacts, Top Ten Ancient Egyptian TextsTop Ten Sarcophagi, Top Ten Pharaohs, Top Ten Mummies,
  9. Bonus: Hall of Records

           The Hall of Records is a library buried under the Great Sphinx of Giza, which is in the Giza pyramid complex. It is rumored to house the knowledge of the Egyptians by papyrus scrolls, much as the Great Library of Alexandria housed Grecian knowledge. According to some, the Hall was not the work of Ancient Egyptians at all but another society (this has ranged from advanced prehistoric societies to a superior race of intelligent beings). Accordingly, this society sealed the Hall away with scrolls of their accumulated knowledge at about 10,500 BC, the last period of time when the constellation of Leo was located between the Sphinx’s paws when it rose in the night sky. Also of note, following Egdar’s Cayce’s remote viewings of the Egyptian Hall of Records, there are two other Halls of records rumored; one in or around Bimini, and another in the Yucatán jungle, most likely the ruins of Piedras Negras.
    Links: Top Ten Egyptian Attractions, Top Ten Ancient Libraries, Sculptures, Top 100 Egyptian Sculptures, Top Ten Statues of the Sphinx,,
  10. Bonus: Library of Alexandria

           The Royal Library of Alexandria, or Ancient Library of Alexandria, in Alexandria, Egypt, was probably the largest, and certainly the most famous, of the libraries of the ancient world. It flourished under the patronage of the Ptolemaic dynasty, and functioned as a major center of scholarship, at least until the time of Rome’s conquest of Egypt and probably for many centuries thereafter. Alexander, although picking the site and planning the general layout of the city, died before he could take part in the construction of the library or academy that was created in his name. nerally thought to have been founded at the beginning of the third century BC, the library was conceived and opened either during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter or during the reign of his son Ptolemy II. Plutarch (AD 46–120) wrote that during his visit to Alexandria in 48 BC, Julius Caesar might have accidentally burned the library when he set fire to his own ships to frustrate Achillas’ attempt to limit his ability to communicate by sea. According to Plutarch’s account, this fire spread to the docks and then to the library.
    Links: Top Ten Egytpian Attractions, Top Ten Ancient Libraries,,
  11. Bonus: Akashic Records

           The akashic records (akasha is a Sanskrit word meaning “sky,” “space” or “aether”) is a term used in theosophy (and Anthroposophy) to describe a compendium of mystical knowledge encoded in a non-physical plane of existence. These records are described as containing all knowledge of human experience and the history of the cosmos. They are metaphorically described as a library; other analogies commonly found in discourse on the subject include a “universal supercomputer” and the “Mind of God.” People who describe the records assert that they are constantly updated automatically and that they can be accessed through astral projection or when someone is placed under deep hypnosis. The concept was popularized in the theosophical movements of the 19th century and is derived from Hindu philosophy of Samkhya. It is promulgated in the Samkhya philosophy that the Akashic records are automatically recorded in the elements of akasha one of the five types of elements visualized as existing in the elemental theory of Ancient India, called Mahabhuta. In Buddhism it is taught one reason that people knew Gautama Buddha had attained enlightenment as a Buddha was because he was able to remember all of the details of all of his past lives by accessing them on the akashic records. The term akashic records is frequently used in New Age discourse.
    Links: Top Ten Psychonauts, Top Ten Remote Viewers, Top Ten Psychics, Top Ten Paintings by Alex Grey, Top 100 Mandalas,,
  12. Links: Top Ten Ancient Libraries,

Enlightening Works of Literary Revelation

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