By the time Andrew Carnegie completed his signature philanthropic effort in the early 20th century, more than 2,500 libraries had been built in the distinctive Carnegie style—graceful architecture outside, open stacks (where patrons could easily browse book collections) inside.

A century later, a library designed for the digital age is about to open in Accra, Ghana. And Carnegie wouldn’t recognize it.

Called Librii, it challenges nearly every aspect of the traditional library. The first...

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