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5 Largest Libraries in the World
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July 1, 2019
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Jersey Griggs
Jersey Griggs is a writer for hire based in Portland, Maine. A ski fanatic and a travel junkie, Jersey is always planning her next adventure.
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Collectively, the five largest libraries in the world hold a staggering 467.4 million items, according to World Atlas. That’s millions of books, magazines, journals, music records, maps and other artifacts, all available for the public’s consumption. From rare manuscripts to pancake recipes, these distinguished institutions hold treasures of every kind. Ranked in order of items cataloged, here are the five largest libraries in the world.

Russian State Library

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44.4 Million Items

Founded in 1862, the Russian State Library has been through many iterations in the past 157 years. Originally founded as the Rumyantsev Museum, it began as a collection of rare books and manuscripts belonging to Count Nikolay Rumyantsev. After it was relocated from St. Petersburg to Moscow, the Rumyantsev Museum was housed in the Pashkov House, just outside of the Kremlin walls. Today, this building is home to the library’s impressive music section. It wasn’t until after 1917 that the museum transformed into a national archive and a new building was built to contain the country’s growing collection of books, journals and maps. In 1924, the library was renamed V.I. Lenin State Library of the U.S.S.R. and it is still called “Leninka” by locals today. In 1992, the library changed its name once more to the Russian State Library.

Library and Archives, Canada

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54 Million Items

Located in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, the country’s Library and Archives is a federal institution dedicated to preserving Canada’s heritage. The library’s archives are available to the public and are extremely thorough in their provision of national records. The library has a collection on Canadian census records from 1640 to 1926, immigration records from 1865 to 1935 and an entire section dedicated to genealogy and family history. The museum also works to preserve Indigenous cultures, with materials that represent First Nations, Inuit and Metis Nation experiences. Formed as recently as 2004, the library was created when the National Archives of Canada joined with the National Library of Canada.

New York Public Library

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55 Million Items

The New York Public Library consists of 92 libraries located throughout the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island. With four major research libraries and 88 branch libraries, the main branch is located on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. Situated in Bryant Park, the building is a notable example of  Beaux-Arts architecture and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1965. Its impressive collection of items includes maps, music, books and periodicals. During World War II, the Allies used the museum’s map collection to study the coastlines of opposing countries. An incredible resource for New Yorkers, the public library went as far as providing free movie streaming to its members. Unfortunately, it was recently announced that this service will soon be canceled, as it is no longer part of the library’s budget.

British Library

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150 Million Items

The national library of the United Kingdom, the British Library is an impressive modern building located in the heart of London. The library’s massive collection includes books, patents, stamps, newspapers, sound recordings, maps and musical scores. The main branch library has a basement that extends 80 feet into the ground, where the temperature-controlled environment is ideal for preserving historical books, manuscripts and maps. Not only is this library home to books that belonged to King George III, but it also has a first edition copy of "The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer. Among its numerous original manuscripts are Jane Austen’s "Persuasion" and an illustrated version of Lewis Carroll’s "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland."

Library of the U.S. Congress

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164 Million Items

The Library of the U.S. Congress is the largest library in the world. In 1800, when President John Adams approved a bill that moved the nation’s capital from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., he also consented to the creation of this library. The bill stipulated that $5,000 be set aside for books to be referenced by Congress, and thus, the Library of the U.S. Congress was born. As such, it is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and holds impressive items related to U.S. history, including a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. Other unusual items include the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets the night he was assassinated and a recipe for Rosa Parks’s pancakes. The library is open to the public for tours, which includes a guided tour of the Thomas Jefferson Building and the library’s exhibitions.