The best libraries in the world always exist in the imagination or in the memory. Think of Mr Jorge Luis Borges’s The Library Of Babel, a universe of endless interlocking hexagons containing (somewhere) every book that could ever possibly be written, or the planet-sized 51st-century book palace in the Doctor Who episode “Silence In The Library”, or the Great Library of Alexandria, which was destroyed by fire in the first century. For me, the honey-coloured stone of the Bodleian Library’s Radcliffe Camera in Oxford will always stir something special, as will the more mundane promise of Dorking public library in suburban Surrey, where I grew up.
But, as Mr Massimo Listri’s lavishly illustrated The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries reveals, there are dozens and dozens of quite stunning book temples still in situ around the world. Here are five of the best as a taster.