The Most Beautiful College Libraries in America
The United States has had something of a love affair with beautiful college campuses, and the libraries, in particular. Ultra wealthy philanthropists donated books, money, and more to help educate America, especially in the late 19th century. The resulting libraries often stand out as the most impressive structures on college and university campuses, resembling pantheons, cathedrals, and even palaces. So no matter how unnecessary physical manuscripts or old print editions or microfilms and fiches become, people will still go to the library. After all, they were built to inspire. Of all the gorgeous college libraries in the country, these are a handful of our favorites.
Baker-Berry Library at Dartmouth College
Dartmouth’s beautiful Baker-Berry Library looks pretty simple and straightforward from the outside. Inside, it’s anything but. Behind those red-brick walls, students can admire a fresco (and National Historic Landmark) by José Clemente Orozco, which adorns a wall in the basement reading room of the original Baker portion of the library. There's also a grand reading room with old wood and plush chairs overlooking the college green. Of course, the library has plenty of modern features, particularly in the Berry addition which was completed in 2002. And perhaps the best part is the adjacent, super cozy Sanborn Library. Case in point: they serve tea and cookies.
Harper Memorial Library at the University of Chicago
Built in 1912, the William Rainey Harper Memorial Library (named for the school’s first president) took cues from the grand architecture at Cambridge and Oxford, and features two distinct towers. This building itself doesn’t actually circulate any books but instead functions as a wildly grand study space.
Klarchek Information Commons at Loyola University Chicago
By far the most modern design featured on this list, Klarchek makes the cut less for exterior beauty and more for the extraordinary views it affords students. From the seemingly all-glass facade, Loyola scholars can enjoy a sweeping panorama of Lake Michigan.
Cook Legal Research Library at the University of Michigan Law School
This 1931 masterpiece at the University of Michigan is nothing short of breathtaking. The English-Gothic hall looks like a cathedral, complete with towers and stained-glass windows. The windows contain the seals of nearly 200 institutions of higher education around the world (the school was even gracious enough to include rival Ohio State). Some say the Cook Library drew on the University of Chicago’s aforementioned Harper Library for inspiration.
George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University
You might not immediately think that Baltimore, Maryland would have a building with one of the most beautiful interiors in the world, but there it is: The George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University. The skylight-lit, cast-iron-stacked, black-and-white-marbled, neo-Greco beauty was built in 1866 and is open to the public.
Fisher Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania
Also known as the Furness Library, this red gem — at first glance — looks like a terra-cotta castle sitting on the University of Pennsylvania's campus. The exterior (also made of sandstone and brick) is just the beginning. The interior of this National Historic Place is a stirring collage of towering arches, natural light, and gleaming stone.
Clark Library at the University of California, Los Angeles
Though it’s not technically on the main UCLA campus — and is actually closer to crosstown rival USC — the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library is a UCLA property. And a beautiful one, at that. Donated to the school by William Andrews Clark, Jr. in memory of his senator father, the brick building is a sort of hybrid of Italian and English styles and contains, among other things, the world’s largest collection of books by and about Oscar Wilde.
Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design
The only design school on this list didn’t actually design its library building (instead, RISD repurposed a grand old bank building in Providence when it needed more space). But the results are still magnificent. The main room features imposing pillars and a hanging, Grand Central-esque clock. Today, the art-focused library sits below several floors of student housing, so there’s no excuse for students not to hit the books.
Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington
The entire University of Washington campus is underrated in terms of beauty. It has an idyllic setting, expert landscaping, and, in the case of the Suzzallo Library, stunning architecture. Like a good many of the other Gothic structures on this list, it has a church-like look, and features a curving Grand Staircase.
Riggs Library at Georgetown University
Riggs was Georgetown’s primary library from 1891 until 1970, and is one of only a few, largely cast-iron libraries still left in America. Today, it’s mostly used for special events rather than actual student services.
Linderman Library at Lehigh University
It’s tough to argue against this one: with its gleaming wood floors flanked by half rings of cast-iron stacks, and crowned by a stained-glass skylight, Lehigh’s Linderman Library’s Rotunda is one of the finest among smaller universities. The Victorian structure has undergone several renovations and maintains a vibrant beauty.