The One Place You Should Visit, Wherever You Travel

Culture Travel Tuesday

Destination: Literary Travel Everywhere Cultural Attraction: The Library

By Jessica Voigts

While I thrive on literary travel, there’s another sort of literary travel that few people think to do. However, whenever I travel and do this, it’s usually the highlight of my trip.

One of the first things I do, when I visit someplace new, is to head to the library.

Kenmare library (a Carnegie library), County Cork, Ireland

Kenmare library (a Carnegie library) in County Cork, Ireland. Photo by Jessie Voigts

The library, you say? But how do you check out books without a card? Well, the local library is much more than just checking out books. It’s the social hub of a town. It’s got plenty of book-related events. You can get a sense of local literature and language, by perusing the shelves, magazines, and newspapers. There’s free WIFI, if you need to connect. There are often showings of new movies, theater and musical performances, and other cultural events. And, librarians are awesome people with excellent suggestions of things to see and do in the area.

Visiting libraries when you travel is the best way to live like a local. Here’s what I’ve found, in libraries I’ve visited:

An odyssey of language in Shannon, Ireland. The library shelves were overflowing with books in both Gaelic and English. My daughter and I spent hours perusing the children’s section, looking at Gaelic books that we’d never been exposed to before – and talking about how the art in children’s picture books looks different, in another language and culture.

A full calendar of musical and cultural events in Köln, Germany, where I learned of free choral concerts that were some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard.

A global library in Inverness, Scotland, where there were also a plethora of global language books – this time, to help teach ESL (and intrigue visitors like myself!). There’s a Loch Ness exhibit and a Titanic exhibit to ponder. There are Loch Ness activities, as well as National Theatre of Scotland storytelling workshops – all located in a beautiful, historic building.

Floor Detail at Seattle Library

The flooring in the Learning Center at the Seattle Library was created by artist Ann Hamilton, an Ohio native. The flooring contains the first sentences from texts in 11 languages. The artist created it to pay homage to the mystery of reading and learning. Picture by Jessie Voigts

Architecture and design at the new library in Seattle, Washington. The floors are emblazoned with literary quotes, the children’s room is a treasure-filled hideaway, and the entire library is a haven of art, places to study and read, and an oasis within a busy city. Events include book talks, theatre, lectures on topics of interest, and cultural events (food, music, dancing, singing, poetry).

A library full of history, genealogy, sheet music, and black musical heritage in Detroit, Michigan. Visitors can explore different collections, including rare books, African Americans in the performing arts, the Ernie Harwell Sports Collection, and the National Automotive History Collection. The DPL also has incredible cultural artifacts on rotating display, including George Washington’s diary.

Information about the local literary scene like we found at the Edinburgh Libraries. See what fiction books have been set in Edinburgh, or explore the Jazz Archive, the work of the first photographic club in the world, or Highland history and culture. Events include book readings, theater, poetry, travels with Robert Louis Stevenson, and more.

Additionally, I’ve discovered new authors by listening to them speak – and found that I loved their writing, their sense of place – in a place I was usually newly discovering myself. We’ve made friends, at children’s story hours – friends that we still keep in touch with, years later. I’ve learned more about a place from exploring the library and attending events there than I ever have from visiting tourist attractions.

What libraries have you visited on your travels? Is this one of your first stops in a town, too? And here’s how to find public libraries wherever you travel.

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Jessica Voigts

Jessica Voigts is a regular contributor to A Traveler’s Library, bringing us cultural inspirations for travel. Check out her bio on the contributor’s page to learn about her newest activities and see her website at Wandering Educators for travel info helpful to everyone.

Jessica Voigts – who has written posts on A Traveler's Library.


Jessica Voigts

About Jessica Voigts

Jessica Voigts is a regular contributor to A Traveler’s Library, bringing us cultural inspirations for travel. Check out her bio on the contributor’s page to learn about her newest activities and see her website at Wandering Educators for travel info helpful to everyone.

13 thoughts on “The One Place You Should Visit, Wherever You Travel

  1. What a fantastic idea!

    I usually only consider visiting the “museum-y” type places, but who knew that a local library would be so full of local interest information.

    I’ll definitely remember that next time I travel to a new destination.

    When traveling, another thing that’s informative in subtle ways is to go to those out-of-the-way-off-the-beaten-path places, like just neighborhoods. It’s just interesting to see how the locals actually live.

  2. You’re right, Kerry, libraries ARE fine parts of the communities. I especially love the small libraries – I’m always amazed at what treasures they yield, even if it is ONE book on display. :)

  3. no one has yet mentioned the Boston Public Library. speaking of art and architecture…

    as you remind us, Jessie, whatever their size or scale, libraries are fine parts of their communities.

  4. Two of my favorite libraries here in Arizona are the public library in Prescott, AZ, a hive of activity complete with its own cafe, and in Tucson the library that forms part of the Center for Creative Photography, a treasure trove of art volumes.

  5. So many wonderful ideas, here. Yes, I visit libraries when I travel, but mostly in the U.S. and mostly because I want to use their Internet access and travel info. I also, of course, look for info on local authors and literary sites. But you’re right about the attraction of architecture and design. The Burton Barr library in Phoenix, AZ is one of my favorites. And I once stopped at a library in Nova Scotia, just because I was curious about its location in the middle of a shopping center parking lot. Turned out to be a wonderful community gathering place.

  6. I love visiting libraries when I travel, and I’ve written about several of those visits at Midwest Guest.
    Sandusky, Ohio, has a great Carnegie library with a turreted limestone building and maintains a very informative Sandusky history blog. Van Wert, Ohio, has a lovely castle-like library along the Lincoln Highway that was the first public county library in the nation. We recently visited a Carnegie library in Danville, Indiana, which has a nice history/genealogy room…will write about that one soon. And, yes, I’ve visited the Detroit Public Library and written about the magnificent Millard Sheets mosaic wall at the Cass Street entrance (one of Sheets’ best known works is the “Touchdown Jesus” mosaic on the campus of Notre Dame…and on the campus library there).

    1. Brette, I agree, the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress is gorgeous and always has wonderful displays of historical significance (including what I think is a permanent case showing what was in Lincoln’s pockets when he was shot). Also, the Madison building, more modern architecture, has a terrific dining room on the top floor with views out over the city. I think it is called the Monticello Room. There’s also a cafeteria, but I loved the classy white-table-cloth dinning room. I don’t know if its permanent, but I recall all the hallways being covered with maps of all kinds. Now THERE’s something for travelers!

  7. we are on the same page on this, Jessie. one that stands out to me is The Mitchell in Glasgow, Scotland. it’s always fun to explore libraries — thanks for the great story.

  8. What a great idea — one that seems obvious when you think about it, yet one that never occurred to me! Thanks for sharing it here.

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