Libraries are everywhere, even if it feels like old-fashioned methods of consuming information are falling by the wayside. In this list, we’ve outlined some diverse options for finding a rare film, studying with friends or simply taking in the architecture and historical points of interest, excluding facilities on college campuses. Hopefully, visitors to these city and community branches will come away with something new, whether or not it must be returned.

11 Interesting Public Libraries in the U.S.

1. Multnomah County Central Library

801 SW 10th Avenue, Portland, OR 97205

Built in 1913, this Georgian-style building takes up an entire city block in downtown Portland; the head architect remarked on the structure’s “certain refined dignity” during its dedication. These days, the Central Library serves as a vital resource for local Oregonians of all persuasions, especially those interested in early works by Charles Dickens. On the top of this building is an “eco-roof,” a garden that utilizes Portland’s heavy rainfall to water its plants, mostly of the stonecrop variety. Many useful events take place here, notably seminars to help with breaking into the job market.


Monday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Tuesday/Wednesday 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Thursday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

2. Fayetteville Public Library

401 W Mountain Street, Fayetteville, AR 72701

While the original building was finished almost a century ago, the organization that runs this library has moved facilities over three times due to urban growth. Fayetteville Public Library’s current location is LEED-certified with waterless urinals and a cistern to recycle rainwater, only a couple blocks from the University of Arkansas. From the windows in the rotunda, one can view the Ozarks while enjoying a peaceful study session. If deep reading gives you an appetite, head to Arsaga’s Café inside the library for sandwiches and coffee. Good news for families: the children’s section has a metal dragon statue inside which kids may climb. Looking for an obscure foreign film? Fayetteville Public Library is a great resource for movies that are otherwise hard to find.


Monday-Thursday 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Friday-Saturday 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Sunday 12 p.m. - 5 p.m.

3. Slover Library

235 E Plume Street, Norfolk, VA, 23510

Open for almost eight years, Slover Library boasts cutting-edge learning technology within Norfolk’s former city hall, which was converted in 2008 following a generous donation. With the help of such investment, the six-story library feels spacious and upscale inside study spaces fit for an important business conference. Extending from the original architecture, contemporary skylights and wood siding makes this library a stunning sight, even if you’re not checking out a book. Keeping with modern demands, Slover has a 3D printer, video game lounge and production studio, all in dedicated areas. Cuisine at Slover, an upscale eatery on the first floor, offers small plates along with Proscecco and Smartmouth ale.


Monday-Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Friday/Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sunday: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

4. Seattle Public Library, Central Library

1000 4th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104

With an exterior made of glass and steel (looking like a collection of many windows), this 11-story library is hard to miss when wandering around downtown Seattle. Shying away from academic stuffiness, the design of the structure allows for natural light at every angle. In the less-open areas of the building, you’ll find that escalators and meeting rooms are illuminated by colored lighting and art installations. Levels six through nine house the “Book Spiral,” where patrons can leaf through the nonfiction section on a continuous, upward-sloping curve. Visitors love the high-speed WiFi and FriendShop, a store perfect for book enthusiasts.


Monday-Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Friday/Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Sunday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

5. Hilo Library

300 Waianuenue Avenue, Hilo, HI 96720

Less palatial than Hawai’i State Library in Honolulu, this gem on the Big Island shines due to its unique scenery and atmosphere; Hilo Library sits behind the famous Naha Stone, subject of a great Hawaiian myth in which the heavy rock could only be moved by a person of royal stock. Inside, the single-story, open-air library looks out onto a serene courtyard (lanai) with grass and local plants. When the weather gets too hot to handle, head to the children’s section for the only air conditioning on the property, but be warned: it’s also the only room without WiFi. Hilo Library also offers a variety of events, from art classes to bonsai tree exhibitions, and is located a short walk away from both the beach and Hilo International Airport.


Tuesday/Wednesday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Thursday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Closed Sunday and Monday

6. Haskell Free Library and Opera House

93 Caswell Avenue, Derby Line, VT 05830

A testament to the warm relationship between the U.S. and Canada, Haskell Free Library and Opera House sits right on the Vermont-Quebec border, with separate entrances on either side and joint directorship (four Americans and three Canadians run this facility). On the floor of the library reading room, notice a thick black line indicating the international border: this makes for an entertaining photo-op. Books in both French and English hang in the stacks, so that this tourist attraction appeals to both sides of the North Atlantic. As for the opera house, you’ll need to reserve in advance a 25-minute tour, only available between May and October.


Tuesday/Wednesday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Thursday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Closed Sunday and Monday

7. Watertown Free Public Library

123 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02472

This suburban Boston library marries the traditional with refurbished modern style, perfect for its location in an already historic part of Watertown (between the fire department, town clerk and post office). Over the past 150 years, the library has not only gone through impressive renovations, but additionally acquired quite a few local art pieces for its T. Ross Kelly gallery—including a bust of John Keats and a folk painting of George Washington. The Children’s Room operates as a hub for learning every day of the week, with enthusiastically-presented “story time” offered for various age levels and en español. Near the front of the building is Red Leaf Café, friendly to coffee drinkers who also happen to be gluten-free.


Monday-Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Friday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.

8. Richard J. Riordan Central Library / Los Angeles Public Library, Central

630 W 5th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071

L.A.’s flagship library is a defining feature of downtown, contrasting with its surroundings in that it looks like a desert palace, and appears minuscule compared to nearby skyscrapers. Yet its wide, open interior proves its worth; a major draw is the lobby’s colorful mosaic rotunda and 360 degrees of California-themed murals. For history buffs, this place is a godsend for obscure documents and dedications, dating back beyond 1926, when the facility began operation. Taking advantage of L.A.’s sunny weather, the Tom Bradley Wing’s atrium has giant skylights above eight-story escalators. As should be expected for a large metropolitan area, Central Library engages in social betterment causes, like adult literacy programs, citizenship study guides and budgeting help, all reasons why this library system has won national awards as recently as 2015.


Monday-Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Friday/Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.

9. Austin Public Library, Carver Branch

1161 Angelina Street, Austin, TX 78702

Situated next to George Washington Carver Museum in the Foster Heights neighborhood of Austin, this library has two notable murals (one inside, one outside) that honor the city’s rich cultural history and enduring hardships faced by African-Americans. Acutely aware and respectful of its namesake, Carver Branch holds a Juneteenth celebration each year, promotes accomplishments by those of color and encourages locals to explore its genealogy database. It may not be a giant, hulking library, but this branch takes on social responsibility bigger than itself and represents the necessity of a distinctly American cultural center.


Monday - Thursday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Friday 1 to 6 p.m.

Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Closed on Sundays

10. Harold Washington Library Center

400 S State Street, Chicago IL 60605

Planned under the tenure of and named after a former mayor, the central library in Chicago is an almost intimidatingly grand collection of books and archival material. Located in the “Loop” business district, this melting pot of knowledge looks distinctive both inside and out: its five-story windows allow for incredible natural light, and an owl gargoyle facing Congress Parkway expresses an emphasis on learning within the building. Creative types should consider utilizing the third-floor Maker Lab, a free studio with laser cutters, 3D printers and top-of-the-line software, as well as regular workshops to fine-tune these digital skills. On the ninth floor is the Winter Garden atrium, a wonderful place to sit and people-watch or enjoy a book you’ve checked out under the 52-foot-tall glass dome roof. Be aware, though, that homeless people use the library as well, and to exercise caution if it feels necessary.


Monday-Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Friday/Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.

11. New York Public Library, Main Branch

Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, New York, NY 10018

New York’s largest and most visited branch of its public library system provides equal parts art and hard-to-find literature, housed in a gorgeous brick and marble edifice in mid-town Manhattan (two blocks from Madame Tussauds). Though the digital print collection is chock full of great drawings and paintings, see some pieces in person in one of the special exhibition galleries, like “Printing Women: Three Centuries of Female Printmakers, 1570–1900” or “The Natural History of Early Modern Needlework.” NYPL has one of the largest manuscript collections out there—peruse through highly specific piles of files such as “Founding Firefighters: Volunteer Firefighters and Early American Constitutional History.” For quality, unique and library-themed merchandise, stop by the NYPL Readers and Writers Shop on the first floor. Outside, hang out and enjoy Bryant Park (on the same block as the library), described by many as an urban oasis.


Monday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Tuesday/Wednesday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Thursday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.

This article was written by Juliana Cohen.