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.
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!