We defy you not to feel inspired by following these exquisite libraries on Instagram.

A survey conducted by Nielsen’s Books found that, during lockdown, people in the UK almost doubled the amount of time they spent reading books. Its findings are hardly surprising. Many of us – though, of course, emphatically not all – found ourselves stuck at home with more time than usual on our hands. But it’s more than that. During a time of crisis, reading – as well as being a way to tool ourselves with knowledge – offers great comfort, both by dint of being able to lose ourselves in other worlds – sometimes familiar, sometimes wholly new – and the fact that it’s a centuries-old pastime handed down generation after generation.

The closure of libraries during lockdown – for some still ongoing – hit many of us hard. We are thankful, then, to be able to follow a gaggle of them on Instagram to wonder both at the extraordinary buildings they are so often housed in and to exclaim over the rare manuscripts shared on their grids. We must, however, caveat this list by saying that there are many, many exquisite libraries across the globe that do not make this list only because they are not on Instagram. But of those which are, these are just a few of our favourites.


Bodleian Libraries, Oxford



Oxford University’s libraries were founded in 1602 and contain, mind-bogglingly, a copy of every book ever published. Spanning the resplendent Radcliffe Camera, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and James Gibbs; the gorgeous Duke Humfry’s Reading Room; and the newly renovated Weston Library among others – all under the wider umbrella of the Bodleian Libraries – they are housed within some of the most historic and stunning buildings, not only in the city but in the world.


It stands to reason then that they have frequently featured on the screens big and small, notably in Harry Potter and Brideshead Revisited. Follow Bodleian Libraries on Insta here.


Starfield Library, Seoul



Most libraries that make ‘most beautiful’ lists tend to be historic in some way. Not so this relative newcomer in Seoul, South Korea, which was completed in 2017 and designed by Gensler architects. In fact, so much part of modern life is it that this repository of books occupies two floors of a shopping centre – the largest mall in Asia, in fact – in the Gangnam business district. You can follow it on Instagram here for confirmation that libraries do not need to be centuries-old to be inspirational places.

John Rylands Library, Manchester



This neo-Gothic meets Arts and Crafts, late Victorian beauty of a library forms part of the University of Manchester. Opened to the public in 1900, it was built at the behest of Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her husband, textile manufacturer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, John Rylands. The special collections housed within its atmospheric walls include medieval illuminated manuscripts; printing by William Caxton; and possibly the earliest existing New Testament texts. On its Instagram account, it shares a wonderful selection of the historic tomes on its shelves; we could lose ourselves all day poring over it and strongly suggest that you do the same.


The London Library



An independent lending library for members nestled picturesquely on St James’ Square, The London Library is one of the capital’s very loveliest and, therefore, a haunt of the city’s literati. Established in 1841, it was at the initiative of essayist Thomas Carlyle, who had grown fed up with the British Museum Library. Previous presidents include the Earl of Clarendon and T.S Eliot, while its first auditor was William Makepeace Thackeray; William Gladstone sat on its on its inaugural committee.


Today you can still see the great and the good beavering away, or blissfully whiling away hours with a good volume, in its resplendent reading rooms. Follow The London Library here.


Gladstone’s Library, Wales



Gladstone’s Library was established by the former Prime Minister William Gladstone to house his astonishing collection of volumes pertaining primarily to politics and social history. Gladstone’s, which is contained in Hawarden, is Britain’s only residential library and can be visited by anyone by appointment.


It is particularly interesting that many of the books contain the great man’s own inscriptions and opinions, often in very plain – and not always complimentary – language. Follow the beautiful Instagram account here.


State Library Victoria, Melbourne



The State Library Victoria lays claim to a number of accolades. Founded in 1854, it is the oldest in Australia. It is also the fourth most-visited in the world, and one of the world’s first-ever free libraries. Its two million-strong books include the folios of Captain James Cook, no less. Follow this beautiful library here.


George Peabody Library, Baltimore



The George Peabody Library is part of the Sheridan Libraries Special Collections at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. It also happens to be one of the city’s premiere wedding venues, as its Instagram attests.

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Afternoon shadows

A post shared by George Peabody Library Events (@georgepeabodylibrary) on


If you’re in the market for a grand wedding overseas (when those can resume, that is) or you just want to gaze at the 19th-century research library and its 300,000-strong collection, do follow its Instagram account here.


New York Public Library, New York



Technically, the New York Public Library, established in 1895, has nearly 53 million items and 92 locations across the Big Apple. However, what we – and most people – conjure to mind when we think of it is its main branch, easily recognisable thanks to being flanked by a pair of lion statues named Patience and Fortitude that sit either side of the entrance. You can follow this hallowed institution on Instagram here.


Harvard Library, Cambridge Massachusetts



The almost 400-year-old Harvard Library – technically an umbrella organisation for all the many university libraries – is distinguished insofar as being the oldest library system in America. It is also incredibly handsome and atmospheric, just as one would hope and imagine for an educational establishment of such worldwide repute as this. Its collection holds nearly 20 million volumes and 400 million manuscripts. You can glimpse a few of them by following on Instagram here.


The Rijksmuseum Library, Amsterdam



The Rijksmuseum is, of course, best-known for its collection of Rembrandts and other Dutch Masters and rightly so. But if libraries are your thing, don’t neglect to follow its account for shots of The Cuypers Library, the largest and oldest art historical library in the Netherlands. It is stunning beyond belief.

By Nancy Alsop
October 2020

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