14 of the Most Spectacular Libraries in the USA
Ah, the library—a place of wonder, endless knowledge, and discovery. No matter what size, they can lead to big ideas (even the little ones!). We thought we’d scour the United States to highlight the most impressive institutions, so read on and prepare to be awestruck by America’s collection.
1. George Peabody Library in Baltimore, Maryland
Photo by Patrick Gillespie via Flickr
Open to the public, this stunning 19th-century-focused research library lives within The John Hopkins University. The building was finished in 1878 and designed by architect Edmund G. Lind and Nathan H. Morison, the first Peabody provost. With black and white marble flooring, a 61-foot-tall atrium, and stacks and stacks of books, the George Peabody Library is a dream.
2. Jefferson Market Library in New York, NY
Photo by Chris Ford via Flickr
Built around 1833, this building’s original purpose was to serve as the Third Judicial District Courthouse, and later served as a woman’s prison. It was supposed to be demolished in 1959, but community members rallied together to save the building and convert it into the Jefferson Market Library in 1967.
3. Geisel Library in San Diego, CA
Photo by O Palsson via Flickr
The Geisel Library calls University of California, San Diego home, which has us wishing we could go back to school. Designed by William Pereira (who also designed the Transamerica Pyramid in our own San Francisco), the 1970s style aligns with Brutalist architecture. It was named in honor of Audrey and Theodor Geisel, the latter being none other than Dr. Seuss.
4. The Community Bookshelf in Kansas City, Missouri
Photo by Chris Murphy via Flickr
Okay, so this is technically not a library in the literal sense—the Community Bookshelf runs along the Central Library’s parking garage—but we still think it counts. The wall is composed of 22 larger-than-life book spines, each approximately 25 feet tall, and the titles were chosen by local readers on what they believed best represented Kansas City.
5. Seattle Central Library in Seattle, WA
Photo by brewbooks via Flickr
A visit to Washington is not complete without stopping by the jaw-dropping Seattle Public Library. Standing at 11 stories and constructed out of glass and steel, the Rem Koolhaas-designed structure offers plenty of natural light, modern design elements, and sudden onslaughts of color—including a section that is entirely red.
6. The Morgan Library in New York, NY
Photo via The Morgan Library & Museum
The Morgan Library is the result of financier Pierpont Morgan commissioning the firm McKim, Mead and White to design him a library for his extensive collection in 1902. In 2010, the interior was completely restored and opened to the public. On view are medieval illuminated manuscripts and rare printed books, including a Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455.
7. Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library in New Haven, CT
Photo by Lauren Manning via Flickr
None other than Yale University could call the Beinecke Library their own—it’s one of the largest buildings in the world solely dedicated to rare books and manuscripts. Designed by Gordon Bunshaft and completed in 1963, the space consists of a reading room surrounding a climate-controlled central shelving stack, teeming with rarely seen works.
8. Joe and Rika Mansueto Library in Chicago, IL
Photo by John Schiebel via Flickr
From the outside, the Mansueto Library at University of Chicago looks like a simple egg-shaped dome—but inside, it recedes 240 feet underground into a closed, high-density storage facility that has the capacity to store 3.5 million volumes. Book retrieval is automated and takes only 5 minutes! Another perk: cozying up in the reading room while the skylights are covered in snow.
9. Boston Public Library in Boston, MA
Photo by Tony Webster via Flickr
A step inside the Boston Public Library is a step back in history: opened in 1895, it was the very first publicly supported free library in the world. It was also the first to allow its citizens to borrow books and materials, and the first to develop a branch system. On top of that, it boasts a collection of 23 million items (including several first edition folios by William Shakespeare and original music scores from Mozart), and is pretty darn beautiful.
10. Hearst Castle Main Library in San Simeon, CA
Photo by Eric Chan via Flickr
You’ve likely heard of Hearst Castle, the 165-room, 127-acre Californian complex designed by Julia Morgan for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. But did you know he had a library of more than 4,000 books, 150 ancient Greek vases, and other precious objects? While you can’t check these books out to borrow, you can check them out with your eyes.
11. Salt Lake City Public Library in Salt Lake City, UT
Photo by Jonathan Grado via Flickr
Is it a mall? An international airport terminal? Nope, this 5 story building is (you guessed it) the Salt Lake City Public Library. With a spiral staircase, a 20,000-square-foot skylight, an art gallery, a massive graphic novel and zine collection, and a rooftop garden, this sounds like a wonderful place to pass the time.
12. Suzzallo Library in Seattle, WA
Photo by Michael Matti via Flickr
Hogwarts, is that you? Seattle makes this list twice, and deservedly so—the Suzzallo Library, designed by Charles H. Bebb and Carl F. Gould, is the central library at the University of Washington. The Reading Room is lined by oak bookcases, topped with hand-carved friezes of the native plants of Washington.
13. Library of Congress in Washington, DC
Photo by Matthew and Heather via Flickr
The Library of Congress is not only the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States—it’s also the largest library in the entire world by collection size. There are a whopping 160,775,469 items total, with 23,892,068 of those being catalogued books. The card catalogs help put it in perspective!
14. New York Public Library in New York, NY
Photo by Thomas Hawk via Flickr
Following the Library of Congress in size is the New York Public Library, with a collection of nearly 53 million items. The historical collections include Columbus’s 1493 letter announcing his discovery of the New World, George Washington’s original Farewell Address, and John Coltrane’s handwritten score of “Lover Man.”
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Of course, there are many, many more impressive and beautiful libraries throughout these 50 states. Which ones did we miss that deserve some attention? Let us know in the comments.
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