Massively gorgeous temples of literature and learning filled to the brim with leather-bound books, rich mahogany, and historic walls that radiate a glowing sense of imagination. Seriously, what’s not to love about a good old library, especially one that’s situated right at the heart of some of the best universities in the United States? Say no more because, yes, all across the country, there are plenty of college campuses boasting academic libraries that can inspire visits that go way beyond just a quiet study session. These days, the cathedral-like spaces often function as community hubs, equipped fully with cafés, Wi-Fi, weekly concerts, and rotating art exhibits, just to name a few.
Historically significant libraries are constantly keeping up with changing times by upgrading facilities and modifying spaces to accommodate group learning and influxes of new technology. However, the more traditional elements, such as the flourishing architecture, are really still the one thing that can truly inspire any student’s love for knowledge and new things. Whether a tall six-story tower of books or some sparkling stained glass windows, bibliophiles all around can discover bright, beautiful, traditional, and modern marvels in these academic wonders. Never before has studying been this much fun-- here are ten of the most gorgeous college libraries in the U.S.
Most Beautiful College Libraries
1. Bapst Library, Boston College
Named after the college's first president, the impressive building functioned as the school’s main library from 1925 until 1984, at which time an additional library was built. Still, the “Harry Potter library” contains more than 51,000 books, 400 individual study spaces, soaring arches, distinctive stained-glass themes in every room, and window designs covering everything from epic poetry to natural sciences (i.e. The political science section features glass designs representing Plato, Benjamin Franklin, and the political economy). Its Gothic design includes a memorial tower at its north end as well as various sculptures of Mary, Seat of Wisdom, and President John Bapst himself—all above the central doors of the main entrance.
Bapst Library is located in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts at 140 Commonwealth Ave. and is open Mondays-Fridays from 8am-12am and Saturdays-Sundays from 9am-12am.
2. Anne & Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library, University of Pennsylvania
Designed by Philadelphia-based Victorian architect Frank Furness using materials such as red sandstone, brick, and terra-cotta, the now National Historic Landmark was originally built in the late 19th century as the university’s primary library. These days, it serves as the art library, with collections of books tackling architecture, historic preservation, and art history topics.
Anne & Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 220 S. 34th St. and is open Mondays-Thursdays from 8:30am-12am, Fridays from 8:30am-8pm and Saturdays-Sundays from 10am-8pm.
3. Andrew Dickson White Library, Cornell University
Three towering tiers of wrought-iron stacks truly make a dramatic impression on any awestruck individual who visits Cornell’s main library building. The diverse 30,000-book collection (including volumes on everything from architecture and witchcraft to the French Revolution and Civil War), bookcase bridges, extravagant spiral staircases, and various art, artifact, and furniture displays make the campus favorite seem more like a vintage Hollywood set than any place to actually ‘study’ in. Architect William Henry Miller, who just happened to graduate from the university himself, constructed the magnificent building around the turn of the 19th century. What a way to give back!
Andrew Dickson White Library is located within Uris Library in Ithaca, New York at 160 Ho Plaza and is open Sundays-Thursdays from 8am-2am, Fridays from 8am-9pm and Saturdays from 10am-9pm.
4. Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, University of Chicago
With a stunning reading room featuring a naturally-lit 8,000 square-foot study space above the ground (a.k.a “The Bubble”), a 5-story underground book storage facility below the ground, and book-retrieving robots-- yes robots—who fetch student requests from the high-tech stacks, this Helmut Jahn designed building is pretty much the closest thing to cool. What’s more is that there’s an elliptical glass dome enclosing the entire space as well as loads of sturdy tables and chairs made all from pure European white oak.
Joe and Rika Mansueto Library is located in Chicago, Illinois at 1100 E. 57th St. and is open Mondays-Thursdays from 8am-12:45am, Fridays from 8am-10:45pm, Saturdays from 9am-10:45pm and Sundays from 10am-12:45am.
5. George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University
Founded by its namesake philanthropist—Mr. George Peabody himself—in 1857, the “cathedral of books” features an atrium with black-and-white marble floors and five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies rising all the way up towards a latticed skylight ceiling. The magnificent neo-Grec interior offers a 300,000-volume collection of books that’s strong in everything from British art, Romance languages and literature, to religion, philosophy, and geography, especially if hailing from the 18th and 19th centuries. It was designed by architect Edmund G. Lind, and even today, is an overly active research facility, as well as a highly popular Baltimore-area wedding venue.
George Peabody Library is located in Baltimore, Maryland at 17 E Mt. Vernon Pl. and is open Tuesdays-Thursdays from 9am-5pm, Fridays from 9-3pm, Saturdays-Mondays are closed.
6. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
It’s famous for being one of the largest rare book libraries in the world and was built using translucent marble panels instead of windows to keep harsh sunlight from damaging the precious contents housed within its 500,000 volume, several million manuscript-filled collection, which include the Gutenberg Bible and Audubon's Birds of America, both of which are on permanent exhibition. Completed in 1963, the building was created by Gordon Bunshaft and has a truly distinctive look that’s white and gray from the outside but warm and amber-hued on the inside. There’s also a gigantic six-story tower of books encased within glass and surrounded by a mezzanine level that draws visitors to free rotating exhibitions, lectures, and musical performances.
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is located in New Haven, Connecticut at 121 Wall St. and is open Mondays-Fridays 9am-4:45pm, Weekend are closed.
7. Fleet Library, Rhode Island School of Design
By 2002, RISD had found itself facing a makeover challenge that involved transforming an imposing Italian Renaissance-style bank building into the likes of a design-forward library. Their solution: A living-room-like setup of contemporary Knoll chairs on cork flooring sitting below an opulent clock dangling from barrel-vaulted glass ceilings. Fleet also just happens to house some of the best collections of architecture, design, and photography books.
Fleet Library is located in Providence, Rhode Island at 15 Westminster St. and is open Mondays-Thursdays from 8:30am-11pm, Fridays from 8:30-8pm, Saturdays from 10am-6pm, and Sundays from 12pm-11pm.
8. Suzzallo Library, University of Washington
It took nearly twenty-seven years to fully construct, but the finished architectural masterpiece is frequently recognized as one of the most beautiful of its kind. Eighteen terra-cotta figures adorn the sandstone facade, including images of Moses, Shakespeare, Plato, and Benjamin Franklin. Inside, a highly elaborate cathedral-style reading room (with high vaulted ceilings, stained glass, hanging light fixtures, and oak bookcases topped with hand-carved friezes representing native plants of the state of Washington) serves as a designated silent study area for students, helping make Suzzallo one of UW’s central campus hubs. Plus, with more than 2 million volumes to choose from, the Collegiate Gothic wonder is far from just another pretty face.
Suzzallo Library is located in Seattle, Washington within the University of Washington and is open Mondays-Thursdays from 7:30am-10pm, Fridays from 7:30-6pm, Saturdays from 1pm-5pm, and Sundays from 1pm-10pm.
9. Clark Library, UCLA
Originally built as the private library of the founder of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, this hidden downtown Los Angeles gem displays the world’s largest collection of books by and about Oscar Wilde and, among other things, important editions of various works by William Shakespeare. The spectacular 1926-built Italian Baroque interior of wood-paneled walls, artful murals, gilded frescoed ceilings, and intimate fireplaces was modeled after the Doge’s Palace in Venice, making it the perfect setting for Sunday afternoon chamber music concerts by the likes of the Leipzig String Quartet.
Clark Library is located in Los Angeles, California at 2520 Cimarron St. and is open Mondays-Fridays 9am-4:45pm, Weekend are closed.
10. Cook Law Library, University of Michigan
Considered the largest library dedicated exclusively to politics and the law, this 1931-built Gothic gem exhibits a gloriously renovated reading room featuring 50-foot vaulted cathedral ceilings, stained-glass windows, oak wainscoting, and cork floors for super quiet passage. Between 1978 and 1981, a three-story underground glass addition was built to add some 77,000 square feet in space, shelving for up to 475,000 volumes, and a rare-book room. Further, up-lighting was installed in 2009 to highlight the building’s stunning intricacies, such as carved wooden ceiling work, fancy chandeliers, gold leaf decorations, as well as various other enchanting architectural details to study. Plus, the library has specific strengths in collections related to Native Americans and early American court reports, among other topics, as well as several extremely important legal documents from the 14th and 15th centuries.
Cook Law Library is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan at 801 Monroe Street. Visiting hours may vary.
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