The Largest Libraries in the World

Explore the Largest Libraries in the World

Discovering some of the largest libraries on the planet will take a very large personal budget or a talent for using the Internet. There are actually 19 libraries in different countries around the world with holdings totaling more than 15 million acquisitions. The number is mind-boggling. To have that amount in a single library is astonishing, but to multiply that by 19 is delightful in the way that only someone who loves books can understand.

The Greatest of the Great

The British Library, London, United Kingdom

Admont Abbey Library, Austria

Admont Abbey Library, Austria

It is no surprise that the British Library holds the record for having the most holdings of any library in the entire world. With items collected from around the globe, the number is close to 170 million since 2008. About 3 million new items are also added each year. This is a place where academics come to do research on a level that is not possible elsewhere. The collections include a wide range of documents and books; dating in some cases to 2,000 B.C. Visits in person can cause momentary panic. There is more to investigate than is possible in any lifetime. The library offers access to thousands of images of important medieval manuscripts online, which is exciting for those who cannot go there in person.

The Library of Congress, Washington D.C., United States

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Though the Library of Congress technically exists as a research source for the Congress, it is culturally understood to belong to the nation. It is open for public visits, but checking out materials is limited to certain officials. There are at least 838 miles of bookshelves inside. Its holdings are second only to the British Library. Some are allowed to conduct academic research there, but nothing is allowed outside of the three buildings that comprise this institution, except for loans to other libraries. When this occurs, strict rules keep the loans inside the borrowing library.

The Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada


This third behemoth of a place is home to documents and books that serve to preserve the cultural history and identity of Canadians; throughout history and into modern times. Because personal visits must be scheduled and reservations are restricted, the library is focusing on sharing information via its public website and online collection. About 70% of those who reference the resources in this library are genealogists. With at least 54 million items in the collection to consider, the institution’s primary goal is to protect its holdings for the future.

The Mighty 7: Next in Line

  • New York Public Library, New York; over 53 million items
  • Russian State Library, Moscow; over 44 million items
  • National Library of France, Paris; over 40 million items
  • National Library of Russia, St. Petersburg; over 36 million items
  • National Diet Library, Japan; over 35 million items
  • National Library of China; over 31 million items
  • Royal Danish Library; over 30 million items

This simple list of the top ten listed on Wikipedia and sourced from an Internet search is enough to fire the imagination of any bookworm. It is tempting to imagine all the possibilities and to consider all the amazing information contained in these locations. Just think of the books available. Ponder over the documents, manuscripts, films, video tapes, audio recordings, scrolls, photographs, ancient stones and preserved animal hides that are only just a few of the ways that mankind has recorded thoughts, ideas, history and events. It is truly more than one can comprehend.

The Remaining 9: Small But Mighty


For quick reference, the smaller (if that word can actually be accurate) institutions represent the cultural giants of history. These include the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences, National Library of Spain, German National Library, Berlin State Library, Boston Public Library, New York State Library, National Library of Sweden, Harvard University Library and the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine. These are listed in descending order, with the smaller collection amounting to a mere 15 million items in the Ukraine.

One has to wonder how it is that some countries have national libraries that compare in size to city libraries in the United States; such as Boston and New York. But, there is Harvard, too; holding a place of honor for academia. Attempting to visit them all in person seems rash, but inviting. After all…think of all those books…just waiting.


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