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10 Beautiful College Libraries

Six-story courtyard at the Peabody Library

College libraries are established and maintained by a university to provide educational resources for students and faculty. The libraries house scholarly research and can help inspire students who are there to seek more knowledge on a particular subject or who are interested in learning about another subject.

According to the American Library Association, college libraries that award doctoral degrees were open an average of 109.75 hours per week in 2020. These places also averaged over 966,000 visitors per year. Cumulative academic libraries at institutions offering any degree threshold had more than 1 billion visits in 2018, averaging 47 visits per student.

It’s not uncommon for students to cramme in a library for last-minute study lessons, or to visit a library for some alone time or for inspiration—especially if it’s one of the libraries featured in this story. Best Universities has compiled a list of 10 beautiful college libraries from across the country. Built between the mid-18th century and 2019, these libraries feature an eclectic array of architectural styles. Many of the buildings on this list are of great historical importance on their campus, while other library spaces were built to showcase the power of technology and how it can stimulate innovation in education.



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Riggs Memorial Library

Michelle Obama speaks to students at Georgetown University’s Riggs Library

– School: Georgetown University
– Location: Washington, DC
– Year of foundation: 1891

The Riggs Memorial Library was Georgetown’s main library from 1891 to 1970. Paul Pelz, the architect who designed the Library of Congress, oversaw its construction. It remains one of the few surviving cast-iron libraries in the United States. While the university today has several libraries dedicated to specific trades and subjects, Riggs still fulfills its intended function as a repository for books. The library also serves as a reception room.



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Butler Library

Exterior view of the Butler Library building at Columbia University

– School: Columbia University in the city of New York
– Location: New York, New York
– Year of foundation: 1934

The Butler Library is the largest library on the Columbia University campus in Morningside Heights. Butler is home to several collections, including the university’s humanities, literary, and religious collections, and is also home to Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library and has several special exhibits. Architect James Gamble Rogers designed the structure. The building features chandeliered ceilings and mezzanines lining the hallways.



Temple University

Karl’s library

Exterior view of the Charles Library at Temple University in the evening

– School: Temple University
– Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
– Year of foundation: 2019

The 220,000-foot Charles Library in North Philadelphia exudes modern creativity with over 30,000 square feet of granite pieces, a total of four floors and a collection of books in traditional bookcases. The planning work for the library began in 2013, and two years later the ground-breaking ceremony for the building took place. Snøhetta, a Norway-based international architecture firm known for its work on the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt and the pavilion at the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum in New York, has completed the Charles Library. The library’s namesake is university administrator Steve Charles, who provided $10 million to fund the project.



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Hoose Library of Philosophy

Exterior building of the Mudd Hall of Philosophy

– School: University of Southern California
– Location: Los Angeles, California
– Year of foundation: 1930

The Hoose Library of Philosophy houses over 50,000 texts and works focused on the field of philosophy. The library’s main reading room features cathedral ceilings, walls decorated with paintings, and plaques depicting philosophers. Romanesque, Byzantine and Arabesque styles served as sources of inspiration for the building’s structural composition. In 2003, USC undertook a major renovation project to ensure the building and its valuables would withstand earthquake damage.



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George Peabody Library

Six-story courtyard at the Peabody Library

– School: Johns Hopkins University
– Location: Baltimore, Maryland
– Year of foundation: 1878

The George Peabody Library houses a huge collection of 300,000 volumes, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. Architect Edmund G. Lind, in collaboration with Dr. Nathaniel H. Morison, the first provost of the Peabody Institute, the library. The main stacking hall features five stories supported by cast-iron balconies and a massive skylight more than 60 feet above ground level. Although the library draws visitors for its famous aesthetics and rich history, the building still serves as a place for education and research.



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Joe and Rika Mansueto Library

Exterior of the elliptical glass dome in the Mansueto Library

– School: University of Chicago
– Location: Chicago, Illinois
– Year of foundation: 2011

The oval glass dome that protects the main reading room at the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library is a rather unique structure. The reading room seats 180 people, and the library is equipped with underground automated storage capabilities that use robotic cranes that can retrieve requested volumes in just minutes. Architect Helmut Jahn designed the library, which was cited by the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and received the Patron of the Year Award from the Chicago Architecture Foundation.



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Library hostage

An exterior view of the Geisel Library on the UCSD campus

– School: University of California, San Diego
-Location: San Diego, California
-Year of construction: 1960

The main library at the University of California, San Diego began as a small collection of oceanography in 1960 and since then has amassed over a million works on a wide range of subjects. Its unique elevated dome shape was designed by renowned architectural firm William Pereira & Associates to provide more flexibility in the circulation and arrangement of the books in the stacks. In 1995 the library was named in honor of Theodor Seuss Geisel – better known as Dr. Seuss – named for and home to more than 20,000 original materials donated by the late children’s author.



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The Law Library

Interior of the reading room in the University of Michigan Law School Library

– School: University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
– Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
– Year of foundation: 1863

The University of Michigan Law Library was built in the 1920s and 1930s and features cathedral ceilings and other Gothic-style aesthetics. The building is one of the most prominent landmarks on campus. The library’s primary purpose is to build collections, research, educate, and provide imaginative legal information to its students.



Baylor University

Armstrong Browning Library

An exterior view of the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University

– School: Baylor University
– Location: Waco, Texas
– Year of foundation: 1951

Baylor University’s Armstrong Browning Library is a research center dedicated to studying the lives of poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning and their contributions to English literature.

The Brownings’ love story began in the 1840s when Elizabeth, then a teenager, became better known for her published poetry. Her second book contained eulogies for the more established Robert, who, as a longtime reader of Elizabeth’s poetry, wrote her a letter that said, “I love your verses with all my heart… and I love you too.” Elizabeth replied to Robert’s message and im Over the course of more than 500 letters, they built a romance. Elizabeth’s father disapproved of the relationship, believing that Robert only wanted to be with Elizabeth because of her famous status. As a result, Elizabeth and Robert took refuge in a church.

The library dedicated to her works also houses several collections of other rare 19th-century texts.



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Sterling Memorial Library

Inner main reading room in the Sterling Library

– School: Yale University
– Location: New Haven, Connecticut
– Year of foundation: 1931

Yale graduate architect James Gamble Rogers—the architect behind Columbia University’s Butler Library—designed the Sterling Memorial Library. Built in the Gothic style and modeled on a European cathedral, the library contains a 60-foot ceiling with 3,300 stained-glass windows. Artist G. Owen Bonawit’s stained glass windows can be seen throughout the building.

This story originally appeared on Best Universities and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.


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