But that was before I heard about the Linda Hall Library:

STANDING among the 10,000 rare books in the stacks of the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Bruce Bradley, the director of the history of science special collections, pulls out a copy of “The Starry Messenger,” the revelatory book in which Galileo detailed his astronomical observations made with his own “spyglass” — the instrument that would later be known as the telescope.

“Treat it with care,” Mr. Bradley said as he gently handed me the library’s first edition, one of the more than 500 initially printed in Latin as “Sidereus Nuncius.” The library paid $38,000 for the book in 1988 — at the time the costliest book the library had ever bought. But it’s hardly the only jewel in a collection of 500,000 books, journals and pamphlets that make this private library among the largest science libraries in the world. Also in its stacks are Isaac Newton’s “Principia,” the 1687 book that presented his laws of gravity, and Copernicus’s 1543 “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres,” among other noteworthy works.

But these books are not just for scholars. They are also on view for the average visitor, albeit one with a decided interest in the sciences who makes a pilgrimage to western Missouri, where the sprawling red-brick library sits majestically on a 14-acre urban arboretum just a five-minute walk from Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

The Linda Hall is among dozens of libraries across the United States that house dazzling collections and often mount eccentric exhibitions but largely remain unfamiliar to the public.

“What is fun is to become aware of these marvelous libraries that, though open to the public, are not well known and are filled with wonderful treasures,” said Robert S. Pirie, a prominent book collector who lives in Manhattan and has his own library of several thousand volumes.

But if you’re local and, like me, can’t just gallivant off to Mizzura at whim, you should check out the Folger Shakespeare Library. Or the Library of Congress, which, rumor has it, also has a decent collection.

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