Library of Libraries | Bizarre and unusual libraries and their collections

When most people think of a library, they think of a building full of books that you can check out. But many libraries hold more than just books. As part of maintaining relevance and adapting in the digital age, some public libraries have taken to lending all manner of weird and wonderful items from knitting needles to baking pans to fishing poles—even telescopes!

Libraries can come in all kinds of creative and unusual forms. Here are some libraries from around the world sure to intrigue bookworms as you explore their unique and sometimes bizarre collections.

Unusual libraries 

The graveyard library

Amid the tombstones at a Jewish cemetery in the Austrian town of Krems an der Donau, stands a series of bookshelves–a project by artists Michael Clegg and Martin Guttmann. The Graveyard Library consists of three bookshelves in the size and shape of gravestones, with glass doors protecting books in English, German and Hebrew about Jewish philosophy and the history of death.

The “Weapons of Mass Instruction” 

Argentine artist Raul Lemesoff turned a 1979 Ford Falcon into a tank-like "Weapon of Mass Instruction". He has driven the car all around the country, to schools, slums and rural areas, delivering free donated books to anyone who wants them. The Argentinian car can carry up to 2,500 books.  

The book-loving camel

Author Jambyn Dashdondog has operated the Children’s Mobile Library of Mongolia for more than 20 years, travelling across the vast country by camel, horse and now van. He brings books to kids in provinces without access to libraries, sometimes staying in one location for days so the children can read as many books as they can. 

Books on bikes

The Pima County Public Library is taking another mobile approach to reaching patrons. The system’s three Bookbikes can be found at community events around Tucson, Arizona, distributing free books and library cards. Many more library systems have now geared up to go mobile in the past five years, including Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Sacramento. Checkout the Biking Librarians on Facebook.  

Reading inside the box

The administration of the public library in Nice, France, is hidden inside a giant surrealist sculpture of a blockhead. Artist Sacha Sosno, who worked in Nice until his death in 2013, designed it to be the largest occupied sculpture in the world. The striking sculpture is 28 meters high, containing seven floors.

Library vending machines

These vending machines take up the space of about three cars, and they do not offer lollies or soft drink. In a district in Beijing, machines account for 31.6 percent of books loaned. Even if you’re fighting the good fight against the machine overlords, you’ll have to agree that anything that increases the number of books the public consumes can’t be all that bad. They sure do look cool.

Biblioteca Sandro Penna- Perugia, Italy 

Some think it replicates some sort of alien ship, or a pink bubble-gum container designed by hello kitty. But it is actually a power house of books providing library services for the people of Perugia, Italy. Biblioteca Sandro Penna, is a public library named after the poet Sandro Penna. It features rose-colored glass walls designed to let sunlight in during daytime and at night it creates a rare glow. The Architect who designed it, Italo Rota, made the three-story disc to exude an appearance of an alien flying saucer.

Epos Book Boat 

In the Fyords, a book boat known as Epos travels to more than 250 small communities on islands every year between September and April. This library ship visits small places across three counties in Norway. The service started in 1959 and carries a total of 6,000 books. At any given time, some 20,000 of the floating library’s books are lent out.

Fridge Library, Christchurch, New Zealand

Located on the corner of Kilmore and Barbadoes Streets, the Fridge Library stands in a miniature park, serving as a well-loved book exchange for the area. Though the shelves can get messy, this fridge will always be filled with food for thought.  

Horse-Powered Literacy, Ethiopia

The non-profit organization Ethiopia Reads dedicates itself to delivering books to even the most rural Ethiopian communities. With book carts pulled by horses and donkeys, storytellers follow pre-set circuits around various regions and gather crowds of book lovers wherever they stop  

Bizarre Collections 

Radiohead Public Library

Radiohead have never been one to do things by halves. The band's dedication to both their art and their voracious fan base has always been impressive and has ensured that they never take the easy road with anything they do. So to find out they have curated an incredible catalogue of old memorabilia and rare recordings was impressive to say the least.  From live footage, old posters, rare recordings, press releases, photos and so much more, checkout the extensive Library.  

Cornell University Witchcraft Collection

All of them witches at the Cornell University Witchcraft Collection, part of the library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collection, started in the 1880s. Here, you’ll find the earliest books on the Inquisition, demonology, and more. The collection’s focus is on witchcraft as theology and religious heresy, not as folklore or anthropology. The library’s most important materials are court records of the trials of witches.  There are 104 English-language books that have been digitized as part of the collection. 

International Snow Globe Collection

The Robert A. Deshon and Karl J. Schlachter Library for Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning at the University of Cincinnati started its international snow globe collection in 1983 after a library employee returned from a trip to Florida with a souvenir. That globe had glitter galore and a bikini-clad woman water skiing behind a speedboat. The collection is displayed around the library for visitors to enjoy. 

Medical Oddities 

Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum is a fascinating medical museum that contains an extensive collection of medical oddities, anatomical and pathological specimens, and other weirdsies. Their world-renowned library contains a collection of books bound in human skin (aka anthropodermic bibliopegy), several prepared by the anatomist Joseph Leidy.

Weird Tales 

The New York Public Library knows we are fascinated by popular culture, so its various collections extends far beyond books. The collection of Weird Tales magazine, a pulpy periodical first published in 1923, is one of its treasures. Its specialty was science fiction and supernatural fiction.

Vintage Valentines

The New York Public Library also has a charming collection of vintage Valentines that will put your lousy love notes to shame.

Mattel Toy company Library 

The Mattel Toy Company library has a collection stored in a warehouse of all the types of toys and dolls produced by the company over its history

Puppet Library 

The Puppet Library of Boston has in circulation a 40-year-old pair of giant penguins, also the oldest item in the collection.

Library of Water 

The strangest library you have never heard of could be the Library of Water in the tiny town of Stykkishólmur in Iceland. You can walk over a squishy, foam floor (with shoes off) and browse through numerous gigantic columns filled from floor to ceiling with melted ice from glaciers all around the country. The books are in another building, and the reading room doubles as a chess lounge and a writer’s residency. First built in the 1840s and subsequently renovated, the building that houses the Library of Water originally served as the first weather station in Iceland, and overlooks a scenic, beautiful fjord.

Lilly Library

Indiana University’s amazing special collections facility in Bloomington has 16,000 miniature books, along with a huge collection of puzzles and many other oddities. Their exhibits are also top notch.

More stuff

Library lovers can find even more places to add to their bucket lists. 

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