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11 Wonderful Libraries in Africa

We’ve brought you beautiful European, South American, North American and Asian libraries, so now it’s time for some of the most amazing libraries in Africa.

1. Library of Alexandria

The most famous library in Africa is the Library of Alexandria — the modern tribute to the famed library of antiquity.

Located on the shore in Alexandria near where the ancient library stood, the Library offers enough room for over eight million books. The cost of construction of the marvel has left the library with limited funds to purchase books, though. As of right now, the collection is at about one million, half of which were donated from the National Library of France. The library holds the largest collection of French-language books in Africa and the sixth largest in the world. The rest are mostly in Arabic and English.

The complex also houses a conference center, four museums, nineteen art galleries, a planetarium, manuscript restoration laboratory, multimedia library, library for maps, special library for the visually impaired and the world's only copy and external backup of the Internet Archive.

Images Courtesy of Noel Hildago's Flickr stream and Wikipedia user CarstenW.

2. Saint Catherine's Monastery Library, Egypt

Saint Catherine’s Monastery was established in 381 and is widely considered the oldest monastery in the world. The library was built sometime in the sixth century, which makes it the oldest continuously running library on Earth. As you would guess, the library has an incredible collection, boasting over 3,500 codices in a variety of languages — second only to the Vatican's.

One of the monastery’s most important holdings is the Achtiname, which contains a promise from Muhammad himself offering his protection to the monastery. The library also once housed the oldest almost completely preserved Bible, but it has since been transported to Russia and then sold to the British Library.

Images courtesy of Gillian C. Boal of the University of California Berkley Library and Beautiful Libraries.

3. Misr University for Science and Technology Library, Egypt

This building's pyramid-shaped skylights bring a touch of ancient Egypt to technology and science students studying here, but the shapes also allow ample natural light without increasing the temperature too much.

The library works to do the same with their collection as they have with their architecture, combining texts on ancient Egypt with science, cultural and recreational readings. The library also houses a museum displaying replicas of the country’s most famous monuments.

Images courtesy of ArchNet.

4. October 6 University Library, Egypt

Wonder why the school is named October 6 University? Because it’s in 6th of October City, of course. The library was built specifically for the college, but it is open to the public and is actually located  about 550 yards off-campus.

5. National Library of South Africa

The country’s oldest library dates back to 1818. Throughout the years, the library received many donations of rare books and manuscripts, and in 1873 the library became a legal deposit library for the Cape Colony, receiving copies of all books published therein. In 1916, the library expanded its legal deposit requirement to cover the whole country. As a result, the library has one of the most amazing and extensive collections in the entire continent. In 1999, the library united with the State Library of Pretoria to form the two branches of the National Library of South Africa.

Image courtesy of Warren Tyrer's Flickr stream.

6. Port Elizabeth Main Library, South Africa

In 1845 the Port Elizabeth News Society started a public subscription library. At first, the group met in a small room, but they earned so much money that they were soon able to buy the entire building. Then the government rented it to use as a court house for almost half a century before the building was torn down and replaced with the current structure, which open in 1902. In 1983 the building was declared a historic monument.

Image courtesy of Mike Barwood's Flickr stream.

7. CL Marais Library, South Africa

The CL Marais Library was built in 1901, before the official establishment of the current Stellenbosch University in 1918. The library had to expand quickly to keep up with the college, and by 1926 it already had to be renovated to add additional space. In 1938, a new library was erected and, by 1983, even that library grew too small and yet another building had to be constructed to contain the school’s ever-growing collection.

Image courtesy of Clive Reid's Flickr stream.

8. Hogsback Library, South Africa

This library is located in a small mountain village and is said to be the smallest library in the world. If you happen to be in the area, don’t plan on visiting the library unless you’re incredibly punctual — it's only open to the public from 3 to 4pm on Wednesday and 9:30 to 10:30am on Saturday.

Image courtesy of Valerie Hinojosa's Flickr stream.

9. Kenyatta University Library, Kenya

This strikingly modern building was completed and opened late last year. It is six stories high and each level serves its own specific function: all acquisition and binding is done in the basement, the first floor offers a student lounge and check-out desk, the second floor houses the social science books, the third is home to the humanities section, the fourth holds the science and technology titles, the fifth is where you can find the special collections and the top level serves as a reading area for students and faculty.

Image courtesy of ODDMAC.

10. Balme Library, Ghana

The main library of the University of Ghana houses six departments and a special section for the disabled. The library’s current holdings number over 100,000 books, including a collection of rare books and prints. It is regarded as the best library in West Africa.

Image courtesy of Swegg's Flickr stream.

11. Keren Public Library, State of Eritrea

Keren, and Eritrea in general, has made quite an effort to provide their war-torn lands with more educational services, particularly modernized libraries. This lovely building is just one of the many libraries that have benefited thanks to donors from all over the world who work with groups like Book Aid International to donate money, computers and books to those who need them most.

Know of any other great African libraries that should be included on this list? Tell us about them in the comments!

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Ker Robertson, Getty Images
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architecture
5 Scrapped Designs for the World's Most Famous Buildings
Ker Robertson, Getty Images
Ker Robertson, Getty Images

When an architect gets commissioned to build a skyscraper or a memorial, they’re usually not the only applicant for the job. Other teams of designers submit their own ideas for how it should look, too, but these are eventually passed over in favor of the final design. This is the case for some of the world’s most recognizable landmarks—in an alternate world, the Arc de Triomphe might have been a three-story-tall elephant statue, and the Lincoln Memorial a step pyramid.

GoCompare, a comparison site for financial services, dug into these could-have-been designs for Alternate Architecture, an illustrated collection of scrapped designs for some of the most famous structures in the world, from Chicago's Tribune Tower to the Sydney Opera House.

Click through the interactive graphic below to explore rejected designs for all five landmarks.

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George Mayerle, U.S. National Library of Medicine // Public Domain
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Design
This 1907 Vision Test Was Designed for People of All Nationalities
George Mayerle, U.S. National Library of Medicine // Public Domain
George Mayerle, U.S. National Library of Medicine // Public Domain

At the turn of the 20th century, San Francisco was a diverse place. In fact, Angel Island Immigration Station, located on an island in the San Francisco Bay, was known as the “Ellis Island of the West,” processing some 300,000 people coming to the U.S. in the early 1900s. George Mayerle, a German optometrist working in the city at the time, encountered this diversity of languages and cultures every day in his practice. So in the 1890s, Mayerle created what was billed as “the only [eye] chart published that can be used by people of any nationality,” as The Public Domain Review alerts us.

Anticipating the difficulty immigrants, like those from China or Russia, would face when trying to read a vision test made solely with Roman letters for English-speaking readers, he designed a test that included multiple scripts. For his patients that were illiterate, he included symbols. It features two different styles of Roman scripts for English-speaking and European readers, and characters in Cyrillic, Hebrew, Japanese, and Chinese scripts as well as drawings of dogs, cats, and eyes designed to test the vision of children and others who couldn't read.

The chart, published in 1907 and measuring 22 inches by 28 inches, was double-sided, featuring black text on a white background on one side and white text on a black background on the other. According to Stephen P. Rice, an American studies professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey, there are other facets of the chart designed to test for a wide range of vision issues, including astigmatism and color vision.

As he explains in the 2012 history of the National Library of Medicine’s collections, Hidden Treasure [PDF], the worldly angle was partly a marketing strategy on Mayerle’s part. (He told fellow optometrists that the design “makes a good impression and convinces the patient of your professional expertness.”)

But that doesn’t make it a less valuable historical object. As Rice writes, “the ‘international’ chart is an artifact of an immigrant nation—produced by a German optician in a polyglot city where West met East (and which was then undergoing massive rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake)—and of a globalizing economy.”

These days, you probably won’t find a doctor who still uses Mayerle’s chart. But some century-old vision tests are still in use today. Shinobu Ishihara’s design for a visual test for colorblindness—those familiar circles filled with colored dots that form numbers in the center—were first sold internationally in 1917, and they remain the most popular way to identify deficiencies in color vision.

[h/t The Public Domain Review]

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