Most Beautiful Libraries

If there’s one thing Atlas Obscura likes, it’s a good-looking library. There are more lovely libraries in the world than we could ever hope to catalog in all of their eye-popping fullness, but with your help, we might be able to come close. Whether it’s a frumpy-but-cozy municipal library or a grand, baroque temple to the written word, we want to see the most beautiful libraries near you!

I have to count myself lucky, since both places that I’ve lived for most of my life, Salt Lake City and New York City, are home to incredible libraries. The main branch of the Salt Lake City Library is a futuristic wonder of modern architecture, all glass and huge, curving walls. A striking vision of what libraries can be. Then of course New York has The New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, with its iconic twin lion statues, and jaw-dropping interior architecture. Both sites have proven to be calm and grand surroundings for me over the years. What libraries have you found so gorgeous that you just can’t forget them?

Tell us about the most beautiful library you’ve ever seen in the comments below. Tell us where it’s located and what you love about it. And be sure to include any terrific original pictures of the library that you might have. We want to see how lovely they are! Your comment may be included in an upcoming roundup article on Atlas Obscura. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but at least for this exercise, you can totally judge a library by the way it looks.

(Image: Travis Wise/CC BY 2.0)

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When my partner and I did the European trip in 2017, we tried to visit the library in each city. We even stayed in a hotel right across the British Library in London.
My favorite libraries from our trip are:

  1. Biblioteca Palatina in Parma, Italy.
    Biblioteca Palatina - Album on Imgur
    (I tried to submit this one in Atlas Obscura, but got lazy. Maybe one day I will finish the entry)
    I don’t think many people know this library exists, and it still functions as an academic/public library. When we went there, the two of us got a private tour (mainly because we were the only tourists there). The guide spoke only in Italian, but thankfully my partner is fluent.
  2. Biblioteca Joanina in Coimbra, Portugal.
    (we aren’t supposed to take pictures inside the library, but there are plenty of images of the library on the interwebs.)

    The library also has a “dungeon” with solitary study cells.
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The library in the Biltmore House in Asheville North Carolina is magnificent

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And the Library of Parliament in Ottawa is also a great one…

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It was a real steampunk-y treat to visit the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s mathematics library at 216 Altgeld Hall, featuring glass floors, narrow stairs and intricate iron shelving. The building was constructed in the late-1800s and feels castle-like.


Photo by Kevin Dooley.


Photo by A.M. Stangl.


Photo by C.E. Crane.


Photo by A.M. Stangl.


Photo by E. Hardesty.


Photo by A.M. Stangl.

Easy to visit, but I believe I had to leave my backpack outside the stacks.

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Close to home for me is Frank Lloyd Wright’s breathtaking Marin County Civic Center. The Civic Center Library within is one of the more humble parts of the building, perhaps so you can pay good attention to your reading, but — true to form — the round, gently domed room still provides the feeling you’re inside of a flying saucer’s library rather than properly tethered to the ground.


Photo by Eugene Kim.


Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns.


Photo by Jesse Ganes.

As already pointed out in an AO article, this is also a great place to visit if you’re a Star Wars fan, or if you’ve enjoyed the movie Gattaca. It’s extremely easy to visit, just up an escalator or elevator, there’s plenty of parking, and the whole place is a feast for the eyes and lens.

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Photos of the Benjamin Hooks Central Library in Memphis don’t do it justice. I take all my first-time out-of-town guests there, though, because the sculptural elements at the entrance are so very unusual and, I think, pretty exciting. On the huge pillars and into the granite flooring are carved quotations from great literary works, maps, hieroglyphs and petroglyphs, and really everything you can imagine that has to do with literacy. You could spend hours just reading outside the library! When you finally get inside, don’t miss the children’s area, whether you have kids with you or not. It begins with a brilliantly colored forest and continues with a variety of art – and oh yeah, tons of books.

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Peabody-330

Peabody Library in Baltimore - easily the most beautiful library I’ve ever been to.

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I would name Henri Labrouste’s Sainte-Geneviève Library in Paris:

Luis Kahn’s Philip Exeter Library in Exeter, New Hampshire:

Gordon Bunshaft’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library in New Haven:

Alberto Kalach’s Vasconcelos Library in Mexico:

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University of Washington, in Seattle.

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The Wren Library of Trinity College Cambridge:

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In medieval times books were so precious they were chained up. A 16th century chained library still exists in a room above the main door of St Wulfram’s church in Grantham, Lincs, complete with fireplace to keep scholars warm. See The Trigge Library - DiscoverStWulframs.co.uk.

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These are all beautiful libraries indeed. But I have 3 more to add.
First one is de

the Stockholm Public library
Second and really amazing is the Library of the Strahov monastery in Prague
And last but not least the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna of which it is impossible to give a total image. You just have to go there !

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I believe that the Louis Kahn library pictured here is at the Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH (not in CT).

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Dimond Library at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH design by Gund Partners. The campus here is beautiful and the Hubbard reading room at the library allows you to feel like you are in the middle of it.
image

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Of course it is in New Hampshire, my bad…
I did a copy/paste to avoid writing the entire location by hand and I just propagated the error without checking. :sweat:
I amended the post with the correct location.

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Thanks for sharing this! I can remember studying here when I was a student back in the 70’s.

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My vote is for the Detroit Public Library in Detroit, Michigan:

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Santiago Calatrava’s Law Library at the University of Zurich.
The louvered roof responds to the changing sun creating dancing shadows and light beams throughout the space. I have visited only once but remember the experience very fondly!!

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The Bodleian, Oxford Uni. UK. (https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/__data/assets/image/0018/101277/Resized-Credit-photo-Greg-Smolonski-2010-Bodleian_Libraries_10_073.JPG)

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I was fortunate to see the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in 2006 when traveling in Egypt. The library was designed by a Norwegian architectural firm and construction began in 1995 and opened in 2002. The cost was US $220 Million which also included a conference centre, a special library for maps, multimedia, children, visually impaired along with four museums and art galleries and a planetarium . The library collection is trilingual, containing books in Arabic, French and English and it was designed to hold up eight million books. The main building was designed in the shape of a tilted sundial and the outside walls have 120 different human scripts carved into the Granite walls. It was quite an amazing place to see and experience.

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