62 of the World's Most Beautiful Libraries

iStock
iStock

For the last couple years, Jill Harness has been rounding up the world's most beautiful libraries by continent. Here they are all in one place, in no particular order.

1. TRINITY COLLEGE LIBRARY // IRELAND

Aside from being absolutely gorgeous, with two story dark wooden arches, this is also the largest library in all of Ireland. It serves as the country’s copyright library, where a copy of all new books and periodicals must be sent when they apply for copyright protection. The library is also home to the famous Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript created by Celtic monks around the year 800.

2. BRISTOL CENTRAL LIBRARY // ENGLAND

This library, completed in 1906, is fascinating for its unique combination of architectural styles. The front exterior was designed in Tudor Revival and Modern Movement styles in order to allow it to harmonize with the next-door Abbey Gatehouse. It was built on a slope, and the front of the building is only three stories tall, but thanks to the two basement levels built into the hill, the back of the building has five stories. Inside, the design is mostly Classical, featuring ample arches, marble flooring and a stunning turquoise glass mosaic at the entrance hall.

3. CODRINGTON LIBRARY // ENGLAND

The Codrington Library of Oxford University was completed in 1751 and has been used by scholars ever since. In the late 1990s, the building underwent a massive renovation in order to provide better protection for the books and to make the library more user friendly with better wiring and some new electronic work stations.

4. BIBLIOTHEQUE NATIONALE DE FRANCE // FRANCE

The National Library of France has expanded greatly since new buildings were added to house the collection in 1988. Even so, the old buildings on the Rue de Richelieu are still in use, and are utterly gorgeous as well. These buildings were completed in 1868, and by 1896 the library was the largest book repository in the world, although that record has since been taken from it.

5. The Library of El Escorial, Spain

This library is located in the Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the historical residence of the king of Spain. Phillip II was responsible for adding the library and most of the books originally held within. The vaulted ceilings were painted with gorgeous frescoes, each representing one of the seven liberal arts: rhetoric, dialectic, music, grammar, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy. These days, the library is a World Heritage Site, and it holds more than 40,000 volumes.

6. Biblioteca Geral, University of Coimbra, Portugal

The General Library of the University of Coimbra consists of two buildings: the New Building built in 1962, and the Joanina Library built in 1725. The Joanina Library is adorned with Baroque décor and houses the library’s volumes that date from before 1800.

7. HANDELINGENKAMER, NETHERLANDS

The library of the Dutch Parliament contains every record of parliamentary hearings and discussions. Because it was built before electric lighting made the storage of books a lot safer, the building was constructed with a massive leaded glass dome in the ceiling to allow in light and minimize the need for candles and gas lamps inside the library.

8. DELFT UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY LIBRARY // NETHERLANDS

While modern architecture can often be fascinating, it rarely stands up to more classical designs in terms of beauty. The Delft University of Technology library is a rare exception. With a massive skylight in the ceiling that becomes a steel cone after escaping the confines of the library, and an eco-friendly grass-covered roof, the library is both stunning and totally modern.

9. ABBEY LIBRARY OF ST. GALLEN // SWITZERLAND

This lovely library is not only the oldest in Switzerland, but one of the oldest and most important monastery libraries in the world, holding over 160,000 volumes many of which date back as far as the 8th century. The Rococo-styled library is often considered one of the most perfect libraries in the world and has earned the Abbey recognition as a World Heritage Site.

10. ADMONT ABBEY LIBRARY // AUSTRIA

Built in 1776, the Admont Abbey Library is the largest monastery library in the world. The ceiling is adorned with frescoes depicting the stages of human knowledge up until the Divine Revelation. The entire design reflects the ideals and values of the Enlightenment.

11. Melk Monastery Library, Austria

The Baroque-styled abbey and the library within were completed in 1736 based on designs by Jakob Prandtauer. The library includes a world-famous collection of musical manuscripts and features stunning frescoes by artist Paul Troger.

12. AUSTRIAN NATIONAL LIBRARY // AUSTRIA

Austria’s largest library is located in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna and houses over 7.4 million items in its collections. The library was completed in 1723 and features sculptures by Lorenzo Mattielli and Peter Strudel and frescoes by Daniel Gran.

13. WIBLINGEN MONASTERY LIBRARY // GERMANY

This library, completed in 1744, was modeled in the Baroque style after the Austrian National Library, but it is by no means just a cheap imitation of the original, and it certainly stands on its own. Just outside the library there is an inscription reading “In quo omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae,” which translates to “In which are stored all treasures of knowledge and science.”

14. STRAHOV MONASTERY LIBRARY // CZECH REPUBLIC

This impressive library collection contains over 200,000 volumes, including just about every important title printed in central Europe by the end of the 18th century. And as if the gorgeous décor and impressive book collection weren’t impressive enough on their own, the library also has a favorite feature of many geeks –- two secret passageways hidden by bookshelves and opened with fake books.

15. CLEMENTINUM NATIONAL LIBRARY // CZECH REPUBLIC

The series of buildings that make up this National Library owe their inception to an 11th century chapel dedicated to Saint Clement (hence the name). The National Library itself was founded in 1781, constructed in a Baroque style, and has served as a copyright library since 1782. The collection now includes historical examples of Czech literature, special materials relating to Tycho Brahe, and a unique collection of Mozart’s personal effects.

16. THE ROYAL PORTUGUESE READING ROOM // BRAZIL

The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura in Rio de Janeiro holds more Portuguese works than anywhere else outside of Portugal, including a number of rare titles. Completed in 1887, the building's design is based on the Gothic-renaissance style that was popular at the time of the Portuguese colonization of Brazil. Inside the library are both a stunning chandelier and a gorgeous iron skylight that was the first of its kind in the country.

17. THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF BRAZIL // BRAZIL

Another amazing library of Rio, the National Library of Brazil was constructed back in 1810 and has since become the largest library in Latin America and the 7th largest in the world. As a copyright library, publishers have been required to send over one copy of every title they've published since 1907, pushing the library’s collection to over 9 million items, including a number of rare books and an extensive collection of over 21,500 photos all dating from before 1890.

18. The National Library of Chile

Featuring a similar style to the National Library of Brazil, this beautiful building was designed in 1913 and completed in 1925 with a neoclassical design meant to commemorate the country’s centenary anniversary. Aside from housing the National Library, the building serves as headquarters to the country’s National Archives.

19. THE LIBRARY OF THE SAN FRANCISCO MONASTERY // Peru

The library in Lima’s San Francisco Monastery is one of the oldest and most beautiful on the continent. The stunning convent was completed in 1672, with renovations and improvements continuing up until 1729. The 25,000 volumes contained therein are extremely rare, chronicling a massive variety of knowledge dating from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries.

20. HOME OF PERUVIAN LITERATURE // PERU

If you think the architecture of this building looks familiar, that’s because it was a commonly used design for train stations around the early 1900s. As for why this library looks like a train station, well, that’s simple—it used to be one. In fact, it wasn’t converted into a library until 2009. In an effort to get more of the country’s citizens to read and to support the country’s artists and writers, the library features over 20,000 works, mostly written by or about native Peruvians.

21. PUBLIC LIBRARY OF LIMA// PERU

The previous home to the National Library of Peru, the Public Library of Lima was completed in the 1940s with a small addition completed in 1974. It's been declared a historical monument by the country’s National Institute of Culture. The main gallery features marble floors and stairs, sculptures of the library’s founders, and gorgeous high ceilings.

22. NATIONAL LIBRARY // COSTA RICA

With a massive upside-down arch above a glass window and concrete levels sandwiching a fragile-looking glass central story, the National Library of Costa Rica is quite striking. It still appears modern despite being over 40 years old. Unfortunately, the location has been subject to a number of earthquakes, leading to a number of closures over the years.

23. VIRGILIO BARCO LIBRARY // COLOMBIA

If you are a fan of modern architectural design, then you’ll really love what Colombia has created in the last decade or so. Famed architect Rogelio Salmona designed this library, completed in 2001. Featuring red brick walls, blue water pools and green lawns, this creative design looks like a maze of colors housing a labyrinth of books inside.

24. SPANISH PARK LIBRARY // COLOMBIA

The Parque Biblioteca España stands out from its native Santo Domingo more than any other library on this list. That’s because the striking modernist design of its three boulder-like structures stands in stark contrast to the simple homes of the neighborhood around them. The architect designed the building, specifically its odd windows, as a way to help the impoverished community imagine bigger and better things, says architect Giancarlo Mazzanti. “We wanted to take people from this poor community into another place and change their reality.”

25. EPM LIBRARY // COLOMBIA

Designed like an upside-down pyramid, the EPM library, completed in 2005, may be a unique architectural feat, but its best-known feature remains the odd forest of white columns located just outside. Even so, the 107,000 square foot interior is quite beautiful, particularly the strikingly angled walls.

26. VILLANUEVA PUBLIC LIBRARY // COLOMBIA

Perhaps the most famous of Colombia’s new libraries is the Villanueva Public Library, which was constructed using not only locally sourced materials, but also by the people of the village. Stones were gathered from nearby rivers and sustainable wood from nearby forests, and local people were trained to help construct the building. The design, created by four nearby college students, focuses on natural ventilation and plenty of shade to keep the interior nice and cool. All of these cost-cutting measures went a long way in helping a truly impoverished area secure a much-needed library.

27. Central Library of Vancouver, Canada

Many modern building designs are based on historical icons, but few of these designs focus on the ruins rather than the original. The Central Library of Vancouver is an exception. Based on the Roman Coliseum, this massive building takes up one full city block and features not only a library with 1.3 million reference materials, but also retail shops, restaurants, a parking structure, office buildings and a rooftop garden.

28. LIBRARY OF PARLIAMENT // CANADA

The Library of Parliament was once part of the city’s original Parliamentary headquarters constructed in 1876. The building had been under construction for ten years before it was revealed that the builders didn’t know how to create a domed roof as seen in the plans. To get around this issue, the Tomas Fairbairn Engineering Company of England was commissioned to create a pre-fabricated dome. As a result, the building had the distinction of being the first building in North America to have a wrought iron roof. The unique Gothic building is so iconic that today it is even featured on the Canadian ten-dollar bill.

29. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS // USA

The Library of Congress, a personal favorite, is the largest library in the entire world as ranked by both shelf space and number of books. Among its several buildings, the oldest is the Thomas Jefferson Building, which just might be the most beautiful structure in the library system. Completed in 1897, the library's neoclassical style features some of the most intricate interiors of any building in the U.S., including murals and sculptures from a variety of classically-trained American artists. Interestingly, the building’s exterior was even more lavish than it is now, as it was originally gilded, but this was criticized as it was believed to draw attention away from the Capitol Building. These days, the roof consists merely of copper that has aged to a sea green shade.

30. STEPHEN A. SCHWARZMAN LIBRARY // USA

You might recognize this National Historical Landmark, better known simply as the “New York Public Library,” by the two stone lions guarding the building (known as either Lord Astor and Lady Lenox or Patience and Fortitude). Inside, the wooden shelves, frescoed ceilings and grand chandeliers give the entire building an old-world feel. Completed in 1911, the library featured more than 75 miles of shelves when it was first opened. The collection still managed to grow too large for its home by 1970, so the library was expanded by adding an underground area that extends under nearby Bryant Park.

31. FREDERICK FERRIS THOMPSON MEMORIAL LIBRARY IN VASSAR COLLEGE // USA

This massive Gothic structure consists of three wings and a central tower, and now houses around a million books, 7500 periodicals, and a massive microfilm and microfiche collection. While the main tower is quite striking, the most famous part of the library is the enormous stained glass window in the West Wing showing Elena Cornaro Piscopia, the first woman to earn a doctorate in Europe, receiving her degree from the University of Padua.

32. JAY WALKER'S PRIVATE LIBRARY // USA

Priceline.com founder Jay Walker's gorgeous wooden library, filled with an array of historical and pop culture artifacts, has been labeled by Wired as "the most amazing library in the world.” As if the gorgeous etched glass, labyrinthine design and multiple stories of book shelves weren’t impressive enough, the collection of rarities stored in the library is completely mesmerizing. Between books bound in rubies, a Sputnik, a chandelier from Die Another Day, and a list of plague mortalities from 1665, visitors to the private library might just have a hard time leaving.

33. HAROLD WASHINGTON LIBRARY // USA

This is one of my favorite modern library designs as it takes new construction techniques and applies them to neoclassical building styles. The result is a vintage look with a modern twist. The red brick base perfectly balances the glass rooftop adorned with seven massive aluminum adornments. Best of all, the designers took their inspiration from other famous Chicago buildings, ensuring the whole structure fits in perfectly with its surroundings.

34. BEINECKERARE BOOK LIBRARY IN YALE UNIVERSITY // USA

From the outside, this windowless monstrosity really isn’t much to look at, but the interior of this Yale library is quite impressive and undeniably unique with its beautiful marble walls. The library is now the largest building in the world designed exclusively for the protection of rare books and manuscripts. And it has quite the collection to protect, as the building is home to one of 48 known copies of the Gutenberg Bible, ancient papyri, rare maps, medieval manuscripts, early American newspapers and more.

35. JOSÉ VASCONCELOS LIBRARY // MEXICO

Nicknamed the “megalibrary” by the Mexican press, this giant library takes up a whopping 409,000 square feet, making it large enough to dwarf the painted gray whale skeleton displayed inside the main hallway. Outside of the library is an impressive botanical garden that protects the building from the loud city streets, providing a moat for this castle of knowledge. Inside, over 500,000 books are displayed on glass shelves hanging from the five stories of the building. The end result is as striking as it is stunning.

36. PALAFOXIANA LIBRARY //MEXICO

Established in 1646, this Puebla library was the first public library in Mexico; some even argue that it was the first library in the Americas. It is now listed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register and its 41,000 books and manuscripts include an array of rare and antique titles.

37. THE ARMSTRONG-BROWNING LIBRARY AT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY // USA

Philanthropist Dr. A.J. Armstrong wanted to create the “most beautiful building in Texas,” and the end result was this 3-story, Italian Renaissance-styled masterpiece adorned with 62 stained glass windows, massive marble columns and intricate ceiling designs. Armstrong justified the expense by pointing out that the “compelling beauty” of the building might be able to inspire someone enough that "if we by that means give the world another Dante, another Shakespeare, another Browning, we shall count the cost a bargain."

38. MORGAN LIBRARY // USA

Constructed in 1906, this amazing New York landmark was originally built as the personal library and museum space for financier Pierpont Morgan’s impressive collection of rare books, manuscripts, drawings, artifacts and prints. After Pierpont’s death, his grandson, J.P. Morgan, Jr., opened the library to the public in 1924.

39. BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY // USA

Talk about old school: The Boston Public library, established in 1848, was the first municipal library in all of the U.S. Its first location was a small Massachusetts schoolhouse, but it had to expand almost immediately. In 1895, the current building, called a “palace for the people” by architect Charles Follen McKim, was completed in Copley Square. In 1972, the building was expanded, and it now contains over 8.9 million books, a number of rare manuscripts, maps, musical scores, and prints. It even has first edition folios from Shakespeare and original music scores by Mozart.

40. BRADDOCK CARNEGIE LIBRARY // USA

The first Carnegie library in the U.S., this library was designed in an eclectic medieval style by William Halsey Wood and opened in Pennsylvania in 1889. Only five years later, it received a Romanesque-styled addition, doubling the size of the building. At the time, it featured a variety of entertainment options, including billiards tables on the first floor, a music hall, a gymnasium, and a swimming pool. Additionally, it held a bathhouse in the basement so mill workers could take a shower before accessing the facilities. These days, the bathhouse is a pottery studio, but the tiled floors and walls remain.

41. INDIANAPOLIS PUBLIC LIBRARY // USA

This Indiana library manages to balance old and new influences in a refreshingly unique manner. The original building, completed in 1917, is located in the front of the complex, while a massive, modernized addition from 2007 sits in the background. The first building was designed in the Greek Doric style and is often called one of the most outstanding architectural libraries in the U.S. The addition is just about as modern as can be, with glass and wood paneling throughout the building, and the 6-story, 293,000 square foot tower provides even more space for books and reading rooms.

42. LOS ANGELES CENTRAL LIBRARY //USA

Like the Indianapolis Public Library, the Central Library of Los Angeles features a striking balance between old and new architecture. The original library building was completed in 1926 and featured influences from ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival architecture, including pyramids and mosaics. A 1993 renovation added a new wing with Modernist and Beaux-Arts influences, including an eight story atrium and more storage space for the museum’s ever-growing collection. These days, the library is the third largest public library in the U.S. and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

43. HEARST CASTLE GOTHIC STUDY // USA

Hearst Castle is one of the most famous buildings in California, but most tour groups miss the opportunity to explore the second story of the building, which includes a massive guest library and a cozier gothic library and study. This room also played a vital role in Hearst’s life, as the mogul preferred to use this room as his executive board room, doing business here whenever possible, .

44. Skywalker Ranch Library, USA

If you ever happen to get access to California's Skywalker Ranch, make sure you get a chance to look at the library, which is crowned with a 40-foot stained glass dome that allows employees and guests of Lucas Studios to enjoy their reading in natural light.

45. SUZZALLO LIBRARY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON // USA

This Collegiate Gothic building was completed in 1923 and among its many impressive details are 18 terra-cotta figures set atop the buttresses featuring academic heroes such as Louis Pasteur, Dante, Shakespeare, Plato, Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Gutenberg, Beethoven, Darwin, and more. Inside, a series of shields depict the coats of arms from many top universities around the world, including Yale, Oxford, Stanford and Uppsala. While the library is home to many rare volumes, the most famous item in its collection is one of the world’s largest, a photo book of Bhutan by Michael Hawley. Library staff turn the pages about once a month so interested viewers can slowly enjoy the entire work from front to back—assuming they visit regularly.

46. FISHER FINE ARTS LIBRARY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA // USA

In 1888, most architects were focused on Romanesque styles built with marble and granite. But this library’s architect, Frank Furness, wanted the building to reflect the architectural style of Philadelphia’s many red brick factories. Throughout the following years it received a number of additions and alterations and finally, in 1962, most of the school’s collection was moved to a new location and the former main building became the home to the fine arts library.

47. DAVID SASSOON LIBRARY // INDIA

Completed in 1870, the David Sassoon Library is one of only 145 monuments protected by India’s government, and the oldest library in Mumbai. One of its most famous features is the beautiful garden in the back—a rare sight in the commercial area in which it is located.The library and reading room were originally intended to be an entire institute dedicated to mechanics, science and technology, but funding ran short. The Sassoon Mechanic’s Institute was renamed the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room after its primary donor.

48. RAZA LIBRARY // INDIA

The Raza Library in Rampur was completed in 1904, and was once part of a palace. While many of the royal family’s other properties have been left to crumble, the library is still protected by the Indian government—another one of the country’s few protected monuments. The royal family started gathering works for the library way back in 1774. Included in their collection are 17,000 rare manuscripts, 205 hand-written palm leaves and 5000 miniature paintings.

49. THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF CHINA // CHINA

If you’re looking for info on China’s ancient history, the National Library of China’s old buildings might be a good place to start. They serve as the home to a vast array of historical and ancient books and manuscripts—even inscribed tortoise shells. And though the buildings themselves are designed in a traditional Chinese style, they were only completed in 1987.

50. The TIANYI PAVILION LIBRARY // CHINA

If you're looking for real traditional Chinese architecture, you’ll need to leave Beijing and head over to Ningbo City—home to the oldest private library in Asia. Built in 1560 by a retired imperial minister, Tianyi Pavilion Library is the third oldest private library in the world. As you might expect, the collection is rather impressive: 300,000 ancient books, including a number of woodcut and handwritten titles.

51. NATIONAL LIBRARY OF BHUTAN // BHUTAN

Completed in 1984, the National Library of Bhutan is also technically a Buddhist temple, and the structure is intended to integrate the three aspects of Buddha and his teachings: the physical represented by statues and paintings, the speech represented by books and printing blocks, and the heart represented by the eight small bowls found on the shrine on the first floor. The library is home to about 6100 Tibetan and Bhutanese books, manuscripts and xylographs, and about 9000 printing boards and wood printing blocks. While the collection isn’t massive, it is one of the largest collections of Buddhist literature in the world.

52. GRAND PEOPLE’S STUDY HOUSE // NORTH KOREA

The Study House was completed 1982 in honor of Kim Il-Sung’s 70th birthday and features an amazing 600 rooms with capacity for 30 million books. Of course, being housed in North Korea, foreign publications are only available with special permission, so it will probably be a while before all the shelves are full.

53. NAKANOSHIMA LIBRARY // JAPAN

This Neo-Baroque design might not be something you’d immediately associate with Japan, but the 1904 Nakanoshima Library actually fits in quite well in Osaka, as the area has quite a few other stone-walled buildings with similar architecture. This building, complete with a copper roof dome (not visible in the exterior image above), is certainly one of the most stunning.

54. BEITOU LIBRARY // TAIWAN

While this attractive building might not be the most beautiful one on this list, it is undeniably the most eco-friendly and the most modern. The slanted roof collects moisture from humidity and rain, and then recycles it for the restrooms and gardens. The Beitou Library has also been fitted with solar panels and deep-set and latticed windows to reduce energy use.

55. VICTORIAN STATE LIBRARY // AUSTRALIA

This library was first opened in 1856 with a collection of 3,800 books, and the famous domed reading room was opened in 1913. While the dome’s skylights were covered with copper sheets in 1959 due to water leakage, they have since been renovated, allowing beautiful natural light to once again fill the reading room. This library is not only massive – containing over 2 million books – it also has some fantastic rarities, including the diaries of the city’s founders, folios of Captain James Cook, and the armor of famed outlaw Ned Kelly.

56. THE STATE LIBRARY OF NEW WALES // AUSTRALIA

The oldest library in all of Australia, the State Library started as the Australian Subscription Library in 1826, and the current building was built in 1845. The most famous, and most stunning, part of the library is the Mitchell Wing, which was completed in 1910. The wing was named for David Scott Mitchell who had a fantastic collection of older books, including original journals of James Cook. The library now houses over 5 million items, including 2 million books and 1.1 million photographs.

57. THE STATE LIBRARY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA

The State Library of South Australia is not as large as some of the other Australian State libraries, but it does have the distinction of having the largest collection dating from pre-European times in its South Australiana collection. This collection is mostly contained within the Mortlock Wing, the oldest and most gorgeous part of the library. Opened in 1884, the building originally held 23,000 books and employed three librarians. Since then, the collection has expanded so much that two massive buildings had to be added to the library, although the Mortlock Wing remains the most visually impressive.

58. VICTORIAN PARLIAMNTARY LIBRRY // AUSTRALIA

The Parliament House was built in stages, starting in 1855, and the library was one of the first things completed after the Legislative Assembly and Council. While construction continued all the way through 1929, the building’s Roman Revival design is fluent and smooth, so the whole thing seems like one single entity rather than a series of extra wings tagged on throughout the years

59. BARR SMITH LIBRARY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE // AUSTRALIA

In 1927, the last heir to a prominent philanthropic Australian family offered £20,000 to the University of Adelaide for a new library, on the condition that it be named after his father, Robert Barr Smith. The red brick library was completed in 1932, complete with two friezes commemorating the donations of the Barr Smiths. Since the collection expanded quite quickly, addition after addition had to be added. These days, the library holds over two million volumes and now spans over almost 21,000 square meters.

60. UNIVERSITY OF OTAGO CENTRAL LIBRARY // NEW ZEALAND

There are ten different libraries at the University of Otago, and when it comes to looks and impressive collections, the Central Library stands above the rest, with its gorgeous, modern architecture that lets in ample natural light and its Special Collection containing over 9000 books printed before 1801. The library offers over 2000 study spaces for students and over 500,000 books, periodicals and microfilms.

61. THE GEORGE FORBES MEMORIAL LIBRARY AT LINCOLN UNIVERSITY // NEW ZEALAND

Lincoln University isn’t huge, nor is the George Forbes Memorial Library located at the heart of campus inside Ivey Hall, but what they lack in size they make up for in beauty. Ivey Hall was opened in 1880, and while the library was originally opened in the George Forbes Memorial Building in 1960, it was moved into Ivey Hall in 1988 after the building underwent a major refurbishment.

62. TUGGERANONG LIBRARY // AUSTRALIA

Lake Tuggeranong is a man-made body of water created by a dam in 1987. As a result, the suburban town built around the lake is equally new, but with the lovely scenery, it’s no wonder that the local architecture is a step above typical suburban towns. The Tuggeranong Town Center Library is no exception and is, in fact, one of the most picturesque buildings in town—particularly when viewed from the water where you can see its reflection. While it might not be particularly old or have an impressive collection of rare books, with a view like this, it certainly deserves its place on this list.

10 Common Road Hazards and How to React to Them

iStock.com/LeManna
iStock.com/LeManna

James Solomon has been a defensive driving expert with the National Safety Council for 34 years. He has taught driving courses for 47 years. And one of the best pieces of advice he can give has absolutely nothing to do with an automobile.

“If it sounds like there might be inclement weather the next day,” Solomon tells Mental Floss, “set your alarm an hour early. You’ll have enough time to get up, clean your car off, and drive slowly.”

That's especially sound advice for a good part of the country, as the winter season means more driving perils, including poor visibility, snowbanks, and ice. Other road hazards like fog, deer, and road-hogging commercial trucks never seem to take a break. For some practical advice on what to do in these situations, we asked Solomon to break down 10 common driving obstacles and the best ways to cope with them. Here’s what he had to say.

1. DRIVING ON ICY ROADS

A sign warns of a slippery road ahead
iStock.com/trendobjects

Nothing can jolt a driver like the sudden loss of control of their automobile after hitting a slick patch of pavement. While some ice is noticeable, “black ice”—which occurs when ice has thawed and re-frozen—can be hard to spot.

What to Do: If your car goes into a skid or loses traction, the best thing to do is remove your foot off the accelerator. “You don’t want power of any kind going to the wheels,” Solomon says. If you have standard braking, keep your foot entirely off the brake. If you have an automatic braking system (ABS), which is pretty much standard in most newer cars, you want to push the pedal down and wait for the car to regain traction. Don’t pump the pedal: The ABS can pulsate the brakes faster than your foot can.

You also want to turn the wheel in the direction you want the front of the car to go. “Once the vehicle begins to straighten out, counter-steer in the opposite direction,” Solomon says. “Steering and counter-steering should be done three to five times while braking.” Keep doing it until you feel the wheels grip the pavement.

2. GETTING STUCK IN A SNOW BANK

A car tire is stuck in snow
iStock.com/JaysonPhotography

After a heavy snowfall, you might return to your car to find the wheels surrounded by snow. As they spin, they can’t find any grip on the slick powder, and you’re going nowhere fast.

What to Do: A little foresight is best here. Solomon advises you keep a shovel, brush, and a pair of traction mats in your trunk. (Kitty litter may also work for traction, but the mats are reusable.) If you’re stuck, make sure you have enough room to move the car forward and backward and that there isn’t any snow blocking the exhaust pipe. Clear the snow away from the wheels and try moving forward or in reverse. If that doesn’t work, put the mats under the front wheels (for front-wheel drive) or under the back wheels (for a rear-wheel drive). Once the wheels are on the mat, try turning to get away from the snow. Solomon cautions to watch out for passing traffic, as other drivers might have trouble spotting you.

3. DRIVING IN HEAVY RAIN

Heavy rain falls on a car windshield
iStock.com/Willowpix

People don’t always think of a torrential downpour the same way they think of a snowstorm, but heavy rain can impede visibility and cause hydroplaning, where the wheels come off the pavement and onto the surface of the water, causing drivers to lose control.

What to Do: For any type of driving in the rain, make sure your tire tread depth is no less than 5/32 of an inch, and preferably much more: new tires typically start around 10/32 of an inch. A worn tire at 2/32 of an inch is asking for a crash, as the stopping distance of a car is increased and traction is reduced. You can estimate depth by sticking a penny upside-down in the tread: If the top of Lincoln's head is visible, it's time for new tires.

Solomon also recommends changing your wipers regularly: a more durable winter blade, a March rain blade, and another August rain blade. And make sure they’re not being held back by your cleaning habits. “If you’re going through car washes and they’re using wax, the wipers are going to be sliding over that,” he says. A wax stripper found at automotive stores can erase that residue, clearing your windshield and allowing your wipes to make better contact with the glass. “The first time you spray it on, you’ll get a crusty, filmy look, which is all the wax you’re dissolving.”

If your windshield is clean but the rain is still obscuring your vision, then you’re probably driving too fast for the wipers to clean the glass efficiently. If it’s that bad, pull over to the side of the road and wait for the downpour to ease up. But never, ever park under an overpass. “You’re a sitting duck there,” Solomon says. “You’re stopped with a guardrail or pillar next to you and your transmission locked. If you’re struck by another vehicle, there’s no place for your car to go. That’s a huge amount of weight hitting you.”

4. BLINDED BY GLARE

A driver observes sun coming through the car windshield
iStock.com/xijian

Winter or summer, the sun sometimes has a way of shining through your windshield just the right angle to effectively blind you. Keeping a pair of sunglasses handy is the best solution, but there are a few other ways to cope.

What to Do: “All cars come equipped with a sun visor,” Solomon says. “The problem is when people pull it down and the edge is pointed at your nose. In a collision, your face will slam right into it.”

Instead, pull the visor down and then push it all the way toward the windshield, then slowly bring it forward until it blocks the sun. (The bottom should still be pointed away from you and toward the windshield. Solomon also keeps a baseball cap in his car so he can use the bill to block the sun without obstructing his view. If glare is coming from the left-side window, remember that most visors are detachable on one end and should be able to pivot and block peripheral light.

5. A TIRE BLOWOUT

A car tire rests on the ground after a blowout
iStock.com/batuhan toker

While some tires may pick up a stray nail or sharp object and deflate slowly, others lose pressure suddenly. If you’re down to three good tires, you’re no longer in a position to drive safely on the road.

What to Do: “The big mistake people make with a sudden loss of pressure is to hit the brake and stop to save the tire,” Solomon says. “But if the air went out that quick, the tire is gone.”

Instead of trying to salvage the tire, focus on getting off the road. If you’ve lost pressure, you want to continue traveling in a straight direction until you can stop. If the tire’s sidewall blows out, the car will probably move in the opposite direction of the break. A blown front right tire will cause the vehicle to drift left, for example. “Drive with two hands on the wheel, put your emergency flashers on, check your mirrors, and get over to the right shoulder of the road if at all possible,” Solomon says. “If you’re in a skid, you may have to keep your foot on the accelerator a little bit to force the wheel to move forward.”

Check your tire pressure at least once a week, especially in winter, when the pressure can drop. But if it suddenly turns warmer, make sure to let the air escape. An overinflated tire can cause the side tread to leave the surface, leaving only the center tread in contact with the road. Your owner's manual or a label inside of the driver's side door will tell you the correct tire pressure for the vehicle.

6. BRAKE FAILURE

A foot presses on a brake pedal
iStock.com/Kameleon007

The ability to stop a vehicle is probably the most important function of all, and when it fails, it’s easy for panic to set in. If you’re pushing the brake pedal and nothing is happening, you need to take immediate action.

What to Do: First, don’t assume your brake lights are still working. “Hit your emergency flashers and pump the brake quickly three or four times,” Solomon says. If that doesn’t work, you need to take a lightning-fast look at the floor mat. It’s not uncommon for the mat to get bunched up behind the brake pedal, making it hard to move. Dislodging it while the vehicle is in motion is dangerous, so prevention is key: Make sure your mat is the right fit for your vehicle, is snapped in place if that option is available, and that you haven't stacked mats on top of each other.

If that looks clear, then go into neutral. “You want to deprive the car of forward motion,” Solomon says. Once you’re in neutral, take your emergency brake—typically a lever with a button on the side console—and begin pumping it up and down. (Some cars have an electronic brake that only requires a button push. Read your owner’s manual.) The brake should lock up the rear wheels and allow the car to come to a stop.

7. SOMEONE IS TAILGATING YOU

A car is seen in a rearview mirror
iStock.com/Ryan Herron

Having a vehicle riding too close to your rear bumper can be a nerve-wracking experience. If you need to brake suddenly, the car is likely to collide with yours. If you honk, flash your lights, or make an insulting hand gesture, you run the risk of antagonizing someone who is already behaving irrationally.

What to Do: “What I want to do is encourage them to pass me,” Solomon says. “If I can, I’ll signal, move to the right-hand lane, and that will generally take care of it.” If you can’t, wait for an intersection so you can make a right turn or drive into a service station. Just don’t engage them: “There’s nothing you’re going to do to stop them from tailgating you. Tricks like tapping your brakes—well, no, you’re dealing with an aggressive person and you’re only going to make them more angry.”

8. GETTING STUCK BEHIND A COMMERCIAL TRUCK

Commercial trucks take up both lanes of a road
iStock.com/esemelwe

Feeling the rush of wind that accompanies a passing 18-wheeler can give you a healthy respect for these road behemoths. If you’re behind one, they can make it difficult to see what’s ahead. If you’re behind two, or in the middle of them, you might start to feel trapped.

What to Do: It’s important to determine whether the truck driver is aware of your existence before you attempt to pass. “If I can’t see the driver’s rear-view mirror, he can’t see me,” Solomon says. “If I can see their reflection, then they can probably see me.”

A good rule of thumb is to add an extra second of following distance to the recommended three seconds for most drivers. (Following distance is the amount of time it would take for your car to pass a landmark, like a roadside sign, after the driver in front of you has passed it.) In bad weather, Solomon says to increase it to seven or even 12 seconds to avoid debris and snow hitting your windshield.

If you’re stuck between trucks on a three-lane highway, decrease your speed by about five miles and let both trucks overtake you. Eventually, one will go faster than the other, and you’ll be able to choose your lane. The same holds true for buses.

9. DRIVING IN FOG

A road is covered in fog
iStock.com/Cha_DZ

It makes for fine gothic horror movies and ‘80s music videos, but fog is otherwise a hazard. Driving through it can reduce visibility in a manner similar to a bad snowfall.

What to Do: Your instinct might be to put on your high beams to better illuminate the road ahead. Don’t. “You’ll wind up seeing less,” Solomon says. “The beam shines further into the fog and reflects off the water particulates, shining the light right back into your eyes.” Instead, keep your lights dim and slow down.

10. DEER CROSSINGS

A deer crossing sign is posted next to a road
iStock.com/jimkruger

Back roads can often be nestled directly in the path of deer, animals that have no understanding of passing traffic and can appear out of nowhere. Even if you manage to avoid hitting one, a yearling could be nearby, ready to do serious damage in a collision. In this case, responsibility falls strictly on you to avoid an accident. “Deer don’t look both ways before crossing,” Solomon says.

What to Do: If you’re in deer country and it’s dark, you can try flashing your headlights to get a deer’s attention. They might take it as a sign to hang back. If you see a deer up ahead, take your foot off the gas to slow your speed, then flash your lights. This may make it run off the road. If not, it’s time to brake: Swerving off the road at highway speeds is risky and can cause serious injury to the driver and passengers. Always read the road ahead. You don’t want an animal that large smashing through your windshield. And as bad as it may sound, it will be even worse if they survive the impact. “If it’s not dead, it will be kicking, with sharp hooves and antlers,” Solomon says.

Get to the side of the road immediately and exit the car. If traffic is high or the road is narrow, go through the passenger’s side door. Above all, take the deer crossing signs seriously and go slow. “When you see those signs, it wasn’t because the state or county had some extra money and thought they’d go put them up,” Solomon says. “It means there have been problems with deer crossing the road.”

5 Holiday Foods That Are Dangerous to Pets

iStock/svetikd
iStock/svetikd

One of the best parts of the holiday season is the menu of indulgent food and drinks that comes along with it. But while you enjoy that cup of spiked hot cocoa, you’ve got to be careful your dog or cat doesn’t nab a lick. Here are five holiday treats that are dangerous for your pets, according to Vetstreet.

1. COFFEE

Any coffee lover will agree that there’s nothing quite like an after-dinner cup of joe on a cold night. But pups, kitties, and other pets will have to sit this tradition out. Caffeine can prompt seizures and abnormal heart rhythms in pets, and can sometimes be fatal. Other caffeinated drinks, such as soda or tea, should also be kept away from your four-legged family members.

2. BREAD DOUGH

We know the threat that bread dough poses to the appearance of our thighs, but it’s much more dangerous to our furry little friends. Holiday bakers have to be careful of unbaked bread dough as it can expand in animal stomachs if ingested. In some dogs, the stomach can twist and cut off the blood supply, in which case the pup would need emergency surgery.

3. CHOCOLATE

Cat and dog in Santa hats chowing down on plates of food
iStock/TatyanaGl

A little chocolate never hurt anybody, right? Wrong. The sweet treat can cause seizures and even be fatal to our pets. Darker chocolate, such as the baker’s chocolate we love to put in our holiday cookies, is more toxic to our pets than milk or white chocolate. The toxic ingredients include caffeine and theobromine, a chemical found in the cacao plant.

4. MACADAMIA NUTS

Macadamia nuts, which are a common ingredient in holiday cookies and often put out to munch on as an appetizer, can be toxic to dogs. While poisoning might not always be easy to detect in a pet, clinical warning signs include depression, weakness, vomiting, tremors, joint stiffness, and lack of coordination.

5. ALCOHOL

Think back to when you first started drinking and how much less alcohol it took to get you tipsy, because you likely weighed less than you do now. Well, your pet probably weighs a lot less than you did, even back then, meaning it takes much less alcohol to make them dangerously sick. Keep those wine glasses far out of reach of your pets in order to avoid any issues. Well, maybe not any issue: We can’t promise that this will stop you from getting embarrassingly drunk at a holiday party this year.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER