4 Million Books, but…Where are they?

Riga is the capital of Latvia, and situated on the river Daugava. Inhabitants about 707 000, a third of the country’s total. Riga is also the biggest city in the Baltic area. Together with Umeå in Sweden it was the 2014 European Capital of Culture. More: USA Today’s readers voted Riga as Europe’s most attractive city and CNN Travel and Lonely Planet also give their praise to the city.

We visited for three days and fell in love with the mix of green areas, old and new, worn, dilapidated, beautiful houses, Russian style ”boxes”, the massive Jugend areas and the restored gems. And the people. The span is refreshing and we enjoyed every minute.


One of the newest buildings here – which you cannot miss when you arrive – is the National Library. Gaismas pils, or The Castle of Light, at Mūkusalas iela on the river Daugava opposite Riga’s Old Town. Latvian architect Gunnar Birkerts, was inspired by Latvian folklore in his construction.

The building  is 40 000 m2, built in 13 stories, where the two on top is only meant for cultural arrangements and for rent (having a party? I didn’t ask the cost…) There are approxiamately 1000 study seats in several rooms, and storing room for six million books.

The Library opened August 29,  2014.

Already in the entrance, I loved it…but with a strange feeling in my stomach…

We had to put all our things in lockers and you were not allowed to bring any drink or food – not even water. You had to get a visitors’ badge too and display it clearly. Then you had to pass the gates and a sighing lady…who looked like ”it would be really nice here… if it weren’t for the visitors.”

Large empty spaces and mirrors called for a selfie first…

As we went searching for the books, suddenly there was a marvellous display right ahead – up in the air.

Beautifully displayed – we headed for them immediately. But, being there, we realized that they were locked in behind glass – only eye candy…

We entered stairs and elevators, slowly becoming more and more desperate…where were the books? And the people? Students? Children?

We tried every door on every floor, but no. They were all locked. We saw the children’s books department – but only through a tiny window…the door was locked.

Finally we managed to find one door open. Some students were sitting there, studying. You could hear a needle drop…And, there was something strange about the room. Not the artsy furniture….not the silence…but – look up in the right corner of the photo: There Were Some BOOKS. In a LIBRARY ?- WOW.

In fact, these were the only books we saw and were able to touch in this building…But the view of Old Town was not so bad.

Riga med omnejd 2015 318_copy

Giving up on the books and about to leave we saw another open door and peeped in. No people of course, but a beautiful aula.

We decided for a last try to reach the uppermost rooms on level 11 and 12. Found an elevator, and a cleaning lady on her way up. No admittance except for guided tours…She agreed on her being our guide and up we went.

This was only for special guests – and no panorama view was possible to photograph because all windows were filled with giant black dots.

As we went down again in the elevator, passing corridors after corridors after corridors…

…we talked about how much this reminded of North Korea and the library in Pyongyang. My husband’s pictures in my head, and he could confirm the feeling…

Leaving through the entrance, we agreed on this: What you can do here is enjoy the architecture and the fine materials used – and fiddle with your phone – there is no joy in books or reading visible here…

…as there is in this old ”biblioteka” where there is soul and warmth! A true home for books, readers and the joy of stories.

What do you think? Do you go to the library still? Should it be ”alive” or only for display?


16 comments on “4 Million Books, but…Where are they?

  1. Sad and intriguing at the same time. Thanks for a nice story and for sharing … I’d prefer a library with a book buzz any day! The old one looks nice – and small! Jag konstaterar också temana Folktomt, Stairway to heaven och Va/Hur tänkte de här som avbockade 🙂

    • that’s what I was trying to say…we saw no books (maybe 50?) and the students we saw (maybe 15?) were on the internet…Strange feeling – I think a library should have BOOKS and people reading…

Halva verket är läsarens - så, vad säger Du? As the second half is the reader's - I'd love to have Your line!

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