America's Most Beautiful College Libraries

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Fleet Library

    Photo: Courtesy of RISD

    1 of 17

    With concerts, art exhibits, and cafés, these beautiful college libraries inspire visits for more than a study session.

    From November 2012 By

    The Rhode Island School of Design faced its own makeover challenge in 2002: how to transform an imposing bank building into a design-forward library. The solution was a living-room-like setup of contemporary Knoll chairs below a gorgeous clock that dangles from the vaulted glass ceiling.

    While college libraries traditionally bring to mind visions of cathedral-like spaces for quiet study, they now function at least as much as community hubs with cafés, Wi-Fi, and event spaces. As a result, says Tom Hotaling, a principal at Boston-based Ann Beha Architects, “academic libraries are attracting a broader range of users than ever before.”

    UCLA’s intimate Clark Library, for instance, has baroque interiors modeled after the Doge’s Palace in Venice, with wood paneling, fireplaces, and a gilded frescoed ceiling that set the scene for chamber music concerts by the likes of the Leipzig String Quartet. On the shelves, you can browse a collection of books by and about Oscar Wilde and important editions of Shakespeare. Travelers to Chicago, meanwhile, should add the University of Chicago’s Mansueto Library to their architecture tour; Helmut Jahn’s modern glass-and-steel dome creates a light-filled reading room.

    These distinctive libraries, like the others that we selected, are designed to stand the test of time. As Robert Siegel of New York–based Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman & Associates puts it, the library “has to have a presence, this sense of impressive volumes and grand spaces. It’s a fundamental tool for a university to make a good impression about its commitment to learning.”

    The Linderman Library at Lehigh University, in Pennsylvania, is keeping up its appearance thanks to a painstaking renovation of the Victorian stained-glass rotunda and grand reading room—14 shades of gold paint were tried before one was selected as a match for the original hue on the ceiling. The result is a gleaming, worthy home for rare books like Darwin’s Origin of Species and John James Audubon’s Birds of America.

    Other historically significant libraries are upgrading facilities, emphasizing electronic storage and modifying spaces to accommodate group learning and new technology. But it’s still the architectural flourishes, whether stained glass or a six-story tower of books, that inspire all comers.

    Check out the other majestic college libraries that made our honor roll and get more travel inspiration from coverage of the top college hotels and beautiful universities worldwide.

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Bapst Library

    Photo: Gary Wayne Gilbert

    2 of 17

    Bapst Library, Boston College

    Built in 1928, Bapst’s second-floor reading room shows off traditional elements of a gorgeous library: soaring arches and stained-glass windows, each devoted to a different academic discipline. The Collegiate Gothic design includes a memorial tower at its north end. Above the central doors of the main entrance is a sculpture of Mary, Seat of Wisdom, flanked by prophets, and the library name honors BC’s first president, John Bapst, a Jesuit missionary who came to the U.S. from Switzerland.

    bc.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Clark Library

    Photo: Courtesy of William Andrews Clark Memorial Library

    3 of 17

    Clark Library, University of California at Los Angeles

    Twelve miles east of campus in the West Adams district near downtown L.A., this rare-book library is somewhat of a hidden gem. Built as the private library of the founder of the L.A. Philharmonic, it displays the world’s largest collection of books by and about Oscar Wilde and, among other things, important editions of Shakespeare. The fabulous 1926-built Italian Baroque interior of wood-paneled walls, murals, and fireplaces is the setting for Sunday afternoon chamber music concerts by the likes of the Leipzig String Quartet.

    clarklibrary.ucla.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Joe and Rika Mansueto Library

    Photo: Tom Rossiter

    4 of 17

    Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, University of Chicago

    Architect Helmut Jahn topped off this year-old library (which goes five stories underground) with an elliptical glass dome that lets in ample sunlight. The strikingly modern 8,000-square-foot reading room is outfitted with study tables and chairs made from European white oak. The automated storage and retrieval system (which has the capacity to handle 3.5 million volumes) delivers a book in an average of five minutes.

    mansueto.lib.uchicago.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Suzzallo Library

    Photo: Darren Krape

    5 of 17

    Suzzallo Library, University of Washington, Seattle

    Moses, Shakespeare, Plato, Darwin, and Benjamin Franklin are among the 18 terracotta figures—chosen by faculty in 1923—that watch over those studying in this sandstone library. The main reading room is majestic and churchlike, with a high vaulted ceiling, stained glass, and hanging light fixtures. Oak bookcases are topped with hand-carved friezes that represent native plants of Washington State, such as Douglas fir, dogwood, and rhododendron. At each end hangs a hand-painted world globe bearing the name of an explorer.

    lib.washington.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Karl and Mary Ellen von der Heyden Pavilion

    Photo: Mark Zupan, Duke University Libraries

    6 of 17

    Karl and Mary Ellen von der Heyden Pavilion, Duke University, Durham, NC

    Part of the West campus library complex, this glass-enclosed pavilion occupies a courtyard between two stone buildings. Designed by Boston-based Shepley Bulfinch, the pavilion was completed in 2005 but made a point to incorporate Gothic-looking steel arches in keeping with the surrounding architecture. The cupola features a whimsical weathervane, with the university mascot (Blue Devil) reading a book. In true school spirit, the weathervane is illuminated in blue whenever the basketball team wins a game.

    library.duke.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Linderman

    Photo: Courtesy of Lehigh University

    7 of 17

    Linderman Library, Lehigh University, PA

    A recent renovation to this library painstakingly refreshed the Victorian stained-glass rotunda and grand reading room—to the point that 14 different shades of gold paint were tried before one was selected as a match for the original hue on the reading room’s carved ceiling. The result is a gleaming, worthy home for rare books like Darwin’s Origin of Species and John James Audubon’s four-volume elephant folio edition of Birds of America.

    library.lehigh.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

    Photo: Yan Da

    8 of 17

    Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT

    Panes of 1.25-inch-thick marble give the 1960s-era Beinecke a distinctive look. White and gray from the outside, the marble glows a warm amber-like hue on the interior, allowing filtered light to enter the space without damaging the rare contents, which range from ancient papyri to works by great 20th-century writers. A giant six-story tower of books is encased in glass and surrounded by a mezzanine level that draws visitors to free rotating exhibitions, lectures by preeminent thinkers, and musical performances. The Gutenberg Bible, the first Western book printed from movable type, and Audubon’s Birds of America are on permanent exhibition.

    library.yale.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Armstrong Browning Library

    Photo: Baylor Marketing and Communications

    9 of 17

    Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University, Waco, TX

    This Italian Renaissance–style building’s bronze doors—fashioned after those at St. John’s Baptistry in Florence—lead you into a foyer with a 23-carat gold-leaf dome. Look through the library for the 62 stained-glass windows that illustrate the works of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the Victorian poets who make up the focus of the research library’s collection. It began as the personal trove of Dr. A. J. Armstrong, head of the English department from 1912 to 1952. These days, the Hankamer Treasure Room (pictured) hosts lectures and string quartets.  

    browninglibrary.org

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: University of Michigan Law Library

    Photo: Dominic Bow

    10 of 17

    University of Michigan Law Library, Ann Arbor

    Considered the largest building dedicated exclusively to a law library in the world, this 1931-built Gothic gem sets some context with quotes from great jurists above its entrance. The gloriously renovated reading room has a 50-foot vaulted cathedral ceiling, stained-glass windows, oak wainscoting, and cork floors for quiet passage. A three-story underground glass addition was built between 1978 and 1981, adding some 77,000 square feet in space, shelving for up to 475,000 volumes, and a rare-book room.

    law.umich.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Fleet Library

    Photo: Courtesy of RISD

    11 of 17

    Fleet Library, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

    Having outgrown its library, the Rhode Island School of Design had been in search of a new site for more than a decade when FleetBoston Financial Corporation donated this Italian Renaissance–style bank building in 2002—complete with barrel-vaulted ceiling, marble columns, and an opulent clock. Built in 1917, the historic space was adapted with contemporary features (Knoll chairs, cork flooring) to house its collection of architecture, design, and photography books in a living-room-like space, especially convenient for students living in the dorms upstairs.

    library.risd.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Davis Family Library

    Photo: Courtesy of Middlebury College

    12 of 17

    Davis Family Library, Middlebury College, VT

    New York–based Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman & Associates Architects strategically chose a wide (rather than vertical) design to help this 143,000-square-foot, LEED-certified library blend into the pastoral surroundings. Opened in 2004, the library even brings the outside in, using wood harvested from Middlebury’s Bread Loaf campus forest in nearby Ripton for most of the stacks, carrels, and reading tables. Linoleum, rather than plastic or vinyl, was used for counter and carrel surfaces, and the carpet is made entirely of recycled fibers.

    middlebury.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Andrew Dickson White Library

    Photo: Cornell University Photography

    13 of 17

    Andrew Dickson White Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

    Within Cornell’s main library building, this intimate space makes a dramatic impression with three tiers of wrought-iron stacks. Andrew Dickson White was the university’s co-founder and first president, and he donated his diverse 30,000-book collection, which included volumes on everything from architecture and witchcraft to the French Revolution and Civil War. The room also displays art, artifacts, and furniture from White’s diplomatic career stationed in Germany and later Russia.

    olinuris.library.cornell.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: George Peabody Library

    Photo: Norm Barker, Johns Hopkins University

    14 of 17

    George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore

    Once described as a cathedral of books, the Peabody Stack Room features an atrium with black-and-white marble floor and five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies, which rise to 61 feet up to a latticed skylight ceiling. The library was founded by its namesake philanthropist in 1857, and its 300,000-volume collection is strong on religion, British art, Romance languages and literature, as well as geography.

    guides.library.jhu.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library

    Photo: Courtesy of Vassar College

    15 of 17

    Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY

    A majestic façade of Germantown stone trimmed in ornately carved Indiana limestone opens into one of Vassar’s most memorable spaces. The massive stained-glass Cornaro Window illuminates the library’s main hall; it portrays Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, the first woman ever to receive a doctorate, defending her thesis before the scholars of Padua. Her garb of gray and rose satin, the college’s original colors, symbolizes the rise of women’s higher education at Vassar.

    library.vassar.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Riggs Library

    Photo: Rudi Riet

    16 of 17

    Riggs Library, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

    The university’s main library from 1891 to 1970, Riggs is no longer open regularly to students, but some get the treat of attending an event, dinner, or lecture in this elegant space (it easily outshines its workaday replacement, Lauinger Library). Designed by architect Paul Pelz—also behind the Library of Congress—Riggs is one of the few remaining cast-iron libraries and still stocks 35,000 volumes. Guests have included King Abdullah II of Jordan; Ben Bradlee, vice president of The Washington Post; First Lady Michelle Obama; and His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales.

    library.georgetown.edu

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    17 of 17

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Fleet Library

    The Rhode Island School of Design faced its own makeover challenge in 2002: how to transform an imposing bank building into a design-forward library. The solution was a living-room-like setup of contemporary Knoll chairs below a gorgeous clock that dangles from the vaulted glass ceiling.

    While college libraries traditionally bring to mind visions of cathedral-like spaces for quiet study, they now function at least as much as community hubs with cafés, Wi-Fi, and event spaces. As a result, says Tom Hotaling, a principal at Boston-based Ann Beha Architects, “academic libraries are attracting a broader range of users than ever before.”

    UCLA’s intimate Clark Library, for instance, has baroque interiors modeled after the Doge’s Palace in Venice, with wood paneling, fireplaces, and a gilded frescoed ceiling that set the scene for chamber music concerts by the likes of the Leipzig String Quartet. On the shelves, you can browse a collection of books by and about Oscar Wilde and important editions of Shakespeare. Travelers to Chicago, meanwhile, should add the University of Chicago’s Mansueto Library to their architecture tour; Helmut Jahn’s modern glass-and-steel dome creates a light-filled reading room.

    These distinctive libraries, like the others that we selected, are designed to stand the test of time. As Robert Siegel of New York–based Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman & Associates puts it, the library “has to have a presence, this sense of impressive volumes and grand spaces. It’s a fundamental tool for a university to make a good impression about its commitment to learning.”

    The Linderman Library at Lehigh University, in Pennsylvania, is keeping up its appearance thanks to a painstaking renovation of the Victorian stained-glass rotunda and grand reading room—14 shades of gold paint were tried before one was selected as a match for the original hue on the ceiling. The result is a gleaming, worthy home for rare books like Darwin’s Origin of Species and John James Audubon’s Birds of America.

    Other historically significant libraries are upgrading facilities, emphasizing electronic storage and modifying spaces to accommodate group learning and new technology. But it’s still the architectural flourishes, whether stained glass or a six-story tower of books, that inspire all comers.

    Check out the other majestic college libraries that made our honor roll and get more travel inspiration from coverage of the top college hotels and beautiful universities worldwide.

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Bapst Library

    Bapst Library, Boston College

    Built in 1928, Bapst’s second-floor reading room shows off traditional elements of a gorgeous library: soaring arches and stained-glass windows, each devoted to a different academic discipline. The Collegiate Gothic design includes a memorial tower at its north end. Above the central doors of the main entrance is a sculpture of Mary, Seat of Wisdom, flanked by prophets, and the library name honors BC’s first president, John Bapst, a Jesuit missionary who came to the U.S. from Switzerland.

    bc.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Clark Library

    Clark Library, University of California at Los Angeles

    Twelve miles east of campus in the West Adams district near downtown L.A., this rare-book library is somewhat of a hidden gem. Built as the private library of the founder of the L.A. Philharmonic, it displays the world’s largest collection of books by and about Oscar Wilde and, among other things, important editions of Shakespeare. The fabulous 1926-built Italian Baroque interior of wood-paneled walls, murals, and fireplaces is the setting for Sunday afternoon chamber music concerts by the likes of the Leipzig String Quartet.

    clarklibrary.ucla.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Joe and Rika Mansueto Library

    Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, University of Chicago

    Architect Helmut Jahn topped off this year-old library (which goes five stories underground) with an elliptical glass dome that lets in ample sunlight. The strikingly modern 8,000-square-foot reading room is outfitted with study tables and chairs made from European white oak. The automated storage and retrieval system (which has the capacity to handle 3.5 million volumes) delivers a book in an average of five minutes.

    mansueto.lib.uchicago.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Suzzallo Library

    Suzzallo Library, University of Washington, Seattle

    Moses, Shakespeare, Plato, Darwin, and Benjamin Franklin are among the 18 terracotta figures—chosen by faculty in 1923—that watch over those studying in this sandstone library. The main reading room is majestic and churchlike, with a high vaulted ceiling, stained glass, and hanging light fixtures. Oak bookcases are topped with hand-carved friezes that represent native plants of Washington State, such as Douglas fir, dogwood, and rhododendron. At each end hangs a hand-painted world globe bearing the name of an explorer.

    lib.washington.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Karl and Mary Ellen von der Heyden Pavilion

    Karl and Mary Ellen von der Heyden Pavilion, Duke University, Durham, NC

    Part of the West campus library complex, this glass-enclosed pavilion occupies a courtyard between two stone buildings. Designed by Boston-based Shepley Bulfinch, the pavilion was completed in 2005 but made a point to incorporate Gothic-looking steel arches in keeping with the surrounding architecture. The cupola features a whimsical weathervane, with the university mascot (Blue Devil) reading a book. In true school spirit, the weathervane is illuminated in blue whenever the basketball team wins a game.

    library.duke.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Linderman

    Linderman Library, Lehigh University, PA

    A recent renovation to this library painstakingly refreshed the Victorian stained-glass rotunda and grand reading room—to the point that 14 different shades of gold paint were tried before one was selected as a match for the original hue on the reading room’s carved ceiling. The result is a gleaming, worthy home for rare books like Darwin’s Origin of Species and John James Audubon’s four-volume elephant folio edition of Birds of America.

    library.lehigh.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

    Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT

    Panes of 1.25-inch-thick marble give the 1960s-era Beinecke a distinctive look. White and gray from the outside, the marble glows a warm amber-like hue on the interior, allowing filtered light to enter the space without damaging the rare contents, which range from ancient papyri to works by great 20th-century writers. A giant six-story tower of books is encased in glass and surrounded by a mezzanine level that draws visitors to free rotating exhibitions, lectures by preeminent thinkers, and musical performances. The Gutenberg Bible, the first Western book printed from movable type, and Audubon’s Birds of America are on permanent exhibition.

    library.yale.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Armstrong Browning Library

    Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University, Waco, TX

    This Italian Renaissance–style building’s bronze doors—fashioned after those at St. John’s Baptistry in Florence—lead you into a foyer with a 23-carat gold-leaf dome. Look through the library for the 62 stained-glass windows that illustrate the works of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the Victorian poets who make up the focus of the research library’s collection. It began as the personal trove of Dr. A. J. Armstrong, head of the English department from 1912 to 1952. These days, the Hankamer Treasure Room (pictured) hosts lectures and string quartets.  

    browninglibrary.org

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: University of Michigan Law Library

    University of Michigan Law Library, Ann Arbor

    Considered the largest building dedicated exclusively to a law library in the world, this 1931-built Gothic gem sets some context with quotes from great jurists above its entrance. The gloriously renovated reading room has a 50-foot vaulted cathedral ceiling, stained-glass windows, oak wainscoting, and cork floors for quiet passage. A three-story underground glass addition was built between 1978 and 1981, adding some 77,000 square feet in space, shelving for up to 475,000 volumes, and a rare-book room.

    law.umich.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Fleet Library

    Fleet Library, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

    Having outgrown its library, the Rhode Island School of Design had been in search of a new site for more than a decade when FleetBoston Financial Corporation donated this Italian Renaissance–style bank building in 2002—complete with barrel-vaulted ceiling, marble columns, and an opulent clock. Built in 1917, the historic space was adapted with contemporary features (Knoll chairs, cork flooring) to house its collection of architecture, design, and photography books in a living-room-like space, especially convenient for students living in the dorms upstairs.

    library.risd.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Davis Family Library

    Davis Family Library, Middlebury College, VT

    New York–based Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman & Associates Architects strategically chose a wide (rather than vertical) design to help this 143,000-square-foot, LEED-certified library blend into the pastoral surroundings. Opened in 2004, the library even brings the outside in, using wood harvested from Middlebury’s Bread Loaf campus forest in nearby Ripton for most of the stacks, carrels, and reading tables. Linoleum, rather than plastic or vinyl, was used for counter and carrel surfaces, and the carpet is made entirely of recycled fibers.

    middlebury.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Andrew Dickson White Library

    Andrew Dickson White Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

    Within Cornell’s main library building, this intimate space makes a dramatic impression with three tiers of wrought-iron stacks. Andrew Dickson White was the university’s co-founder and first president, and he donated his diverse 30,000-book collection, which included volumes on everything from architecture and witchcraft to the French Revolution and Civil War. The room also displays art, artifacts, and furniture from White’s diplomatic career stationed in Germany and later Russia.

    olinuris.library.cornell.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: George Peabody Library

    George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore

    Once described as a cathedral of books, the Peabody Stack Room features an atrium with black-and-white marble floor and five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies, which rise to 61 feet up to a latticed skylight ceiling. The library was founded by its namesake philanthropist in 1857, and its 300,000-volume collection is strong on religion, British art, Romance languages and literature, as well as geography.

    guides.library.jhu.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library

    Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY

    A majestic façade of Germantown stone trimmed in ornately carved Indiana limestone opens into one of Vassar’s most memorable spaces. The massive stained-glass Cornaro Window illuminates the library’s main hall; it portrays Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, the first woman ever to receive a doctorate, defending her thesis before the scholars of Padua. Her garb of gray and rose satin, the college’s original colors, symbolizes the rise of women’s higher education at Vassar.

    library.vassar.edu

  • America's Most Beautiful College Libraries: Riggs Library

    Riggs Library, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

    The university’s main library from 1891 to 1970, Riggs is no longer open regularly to students, but some get the treat of attending an event, dinner, or lecture in this elegant space (it easily outshines its workaday replacement, Lauinger Library). Designed by architect Paul Pelz—also behind the Library of Congress—Riggs is one of the few remaining cast-iron libraries and still stocks 35,000 volumes. Guests have included King Abdullah II of Jordan; Ben Bradlee, vice president of The Washington Post; First Lady Michelle Obama; and His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales.

    library.georgetown.edu

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