Arts & Culture

These Are America's Most Beautiful College Libraries

Studying might feel like less of a grind in one of these awe-inspiring libraries.
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Gothic architecture, stained glass windows, suits of armor, and precious antiques—no, we're not talking about cathedrals or museums. Rather, those elements all belong to America's most stunning college libraries. Universities from New York to Seattle have dedicated lavish sums to constructing temples to higher learning for the benefit of their students and faculty. Midterms and final exams may be the most dreaded part of the college experience, but students at these schools can take comfort knowing that they're hitting the books in an architectural masterpiece.

BAPST ART LIBRARY AT BOSTON COLLEGE

Originally constructed in 1928 as BC's main library, the striking Gothic building now houses Bapst Art Library. With its tall arches, vaulted ceiling, and beautiful stained-glass windows, it almost resembles a medieval church.

SUZZALLO LIBRARY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

Terra cotta statues of Homer, Dante, Galileo, Shakespeare, Da Vinci, and other luminaries crown Suzzallo Library, which is widely considered a masterpiece of Collegiate Gothic architecture. If you look closely at the bookcases in the reading room, you'll see hand-carved friezes depicting Washington state's native plants.

WIDENER LIBRARY AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY

A memorial to Harry Elkins Widener, a bookish young Harvard grad who died aboard the Titanic, the university's flagship library is appropriately distinguished in style. The classical building is awash in marble, carved wood, and antiques.

URIS LIBRARY AT CORNELL UNIVERSITY

This Romanesque building is not only the oldest library on Cornell's campus, it also contains a library within a library. Inside, Cornell's first president, Andrew Dickson White, built a gorgeous repository for his rare book collection inspired by European universities, complete with stained glass windows, wrought iron stacks, and antiques.

FREDERICK FERRIS THOMPSON MEMORIAL LIBRARY AT VASSAR COLLEGE

A gothic masterpiece, Thompson Memorial Library at Vassar features stained glass windows from England, a stone frieze with various university seals, and 17th-century Flemish Gobelins tapestries depicting the romance of Cupid and Psyche.

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RIGGS LIBRARY AT GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

You wouldn't know it from the outside, but hidden inside Healy Hall is Georgetown's most gorgeous library (and the campus's main library until 1970). One of the country's few remaining cast iron libraries, Riggs still houses a selection of books and serves as an event space.

WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW LIBRARY

Hartman Cox Architects used one of the university's earlier study spaces as the inspiration for the Janite Lee Reading Room, which they built in 1997. With its vaulted, beamed ceiling, wood paneling, and high windows, it looks like something straight out of Tudor England.

HOOSE PHILOSOPHY LIBRARY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

You don't need to be a philosopher to appreciate the Hoose Library at USC. Just take a look at the intricate Moorish-style columns and the series of mosaics that represent the subject's progression from the ancient Near East to modern America.

HARPER MEMORIAL LIBRARY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO

With one tower resembling King's College in Cambridge and another with Byzantine imagery, UChicago's Harper Memorial Library is a study in subtle contrasts. Inside the vaulted reading room, you'll find coats of armor amid the tables and chairs.

GEORGE PEABODY LIBRARY AT JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

Part of the Peabody Institute of Music, the George Peabody Library exemplifies the exquisite cast iron architecture of the late 1800s, when it was built. With five levels of balconies culminating in the dramatic skylight, the library has become a premier wedding venue in Baltimore.

FISHER FINE ARTS LIBRARY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

In 1888, architect Frank Furness went against the classical and Romanesque trends of the day and built this luminous library using a material decidedly more mundane than marble—red brick. Yet he used it to stunning effect, creating dramatic arches and vaulted ceilings.

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COOK LEGAL RESEARCH LIBRARY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

Built in 1931, the Cook Legal Research Library looks like something straight out of Harry Potter. Stained glass windows, intricate woodwork, and Medieval-inspired chandeliers decorate the massive Hogwarts-like reading room.

BUTLER LIBRARY AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

New York City comes with its fair share of distractions, but with a library as gorgeous as Butler, it's no wonder Columbia students ace their exams. Designed by James Gambell Rogers, the classical building has plenty of cozy nooks in addition to a great hall lined with mezzanines.

BEINECKE RARE BOOK AND MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY AT YALE

Yalies have architect Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to thank for their unique midcentury library. Bunshaft ingeniously constructed the walls using Vermont marble, which filters light and protects the library's rare and delicate tomes.

ANNE BREMER MEMORIAL LIBRARY AT SAN FRANCISCO ART INSTITUTE

The Anne Bremer Memorial Library houses some one-of-a-kind WPA era murals by Victor Arnautoff, a disciple of Diego Rivera who painted one of the frescos in San Francisco's Coit Tower. Students can admire murals by the Mexican master in the nearby Diego Rivera Gallery.

MCLURE EDUCATION LIBRARY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA


One of Alabama's most historic buildings, the McLure Education Library was named in 1975 in honor of John Rankin McLure, the Dean of the College of Education, according to the university. The building was once used as a post office and cafeteria, and later transformed into a dorm for male students after World War II. It was remodeled in 1954 into the stunning library it is today.

THE JOE AND RIKA MANSUETO LIBRARY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO


The second library at University of Chicago on our list, the Joe and Rika Mansueto Libraryopened in 2011 and is the university's newest library. The 61,719 square foot building is an architectural wonder: the library is primarily underground, with a glass dome structure on top.

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FIRESTONE LIBRARY AT PRINCETON UNIVERSITY


Firestone is the main library on the Princeton University campus. It first opened in 1948 and was the first large university library constructed after World War II in America. The building was renovated again in 1988, and now has over 70 miles of bookshelves. Fun fact per the library website: Firestone also has more books per enrolled student than any other American university.

THE GEISEL LIBRARY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA: SAN DIEGO


Named in honor of Audrey and Theodor Geisel (also known as Dr. Seuss), the six story, stepped tower opened in 1970. The library is home to the Dr. Seuss Collection, featuring approximately 8,500 items from Geisel's work, including sketches, notebooks, videotapes, and other memorabilia.

THE ALBERT AND SHIRLEY SMALL SPECIAL COLLECTIONS LIBRARY AT UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA


This gorgeous library at UVA is a history buff's dream: the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collection library holds more than 13 million manuscripts, 325,000 rare books, and 250,000 photographs with a major focus on American history and literature.

WILLIAM R. PERKINS LIBRARY AT DUKE UNIVERSITY


First known as the General Library, the William R. Perkins Library has gone through numerous expansions since it was first constructed in 1930. Now, it's the seventh-largest private university library in the United States, housing thousands of rare books, documents, and manuscripts.

POWELL LIBRARY AT UCLA


Powell is the main college library at UCLA. First opened in 1929, the building is known for its Italian Romanesque architecture, with a number of mosaics on the outside of the library. Fun fact about Powell: Ray Bradbury reportedly wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the library's basement.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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