The USA has a fantastic array of libraries, big and small, public and academic, for you to explore. Whether you go to see their general collection of books, to visit the rare books and manuscripts they contain, or to ogle the stunning architecture, these libraries are great destinations for you as you drive the nation.
Yale University Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, New Haven, CT
This is said to be the second-largest academic library in all of North America. This ivy league library has one of the largest collections of rare books anywhere. Their holdings range from a collection of autochromes by Alfred Stieglitz to Manuscript maps detailing the route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The library’s iconic 1960s modern building designed by Gordon Bunshaft, of the firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, is closed for renovation until September 2016. Check ahead to find out their policies regarding collections of rare and historical books and manuscripts.
Boston Public Library, Central Library, Boston, MA
Bates Hall, the central Reading Room, with its rich barrel vault running the full length of the Copley Square facade (218 feet long, 42.5 feet wide, and 50 feet high) and lighted by 15 arched windows. Be sure to see the frieze of the prophets, by the renowned artist John Singer Sargent, which was installed in the library in 1895. As well as the Sargent Gallery’s sequence of mural decorations executed between 1895 and 1916, entitled Judaism and Christianity. A variety of torus are offered, so that you can see many of the wonders of the library’s collections.
H. H. Richardson Libraries, Boston, MA
In and around Boston one can visit a cluster of libraries, which are among the finest works of fame architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Together, they will inspire and impress the visitor by their dramatic yet cozily inviting “Richardsonian Romanesque” architecture. They are: The Crane Memorial Public Library, Quincy mass, The Ames Free Public Library in Easton, Mass, and the Woburn Public Library, in Woburn, Mass.
Billings Library, University of Vermont
Now the Billings Student Center, this library perfectly displays all of the elements that make an outstanding H H Richardson design, from the asymmetric towers to the rough hewn stone, the inviting round entry, the octagonal wing and the paired windows. Go inside to enjoy the rotunda, once the main reading room of this beautiful and well-preserved library.
Cornell University Uris Library, Ithica, NY
You must see the A. D. White Reading Room. Why? Because if Harry Potter had a library this would be it. What a wonderful wonderland of multi-storied stacks of books, balconies, bridges, and delicately fashioned wrought iron railings. The entire effect is pure magic. Often called a library within a library, the A. D. White Reading Room was created to house the vast collection of Cornell’s first president.
Stephen Collins Foster Memorial Library, University of Pittsburgh
The Stephen Collins Foster Memorial Library is a small gem of a library devoted to one particular person, Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864), the famous American composer of such works as “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair”, “Way Down Upon the Suwanee River”, “My Old Kentucky Home”, and “Oh Susanna”. Situated on the gorgeous campus of the University of Pittsburgh, the Library is an extended wing of the only skyscraper built to be a college building in the USA, The Cathedral of Learning. The Memorial houses an exhibit on Foster’s life; adjacent is Pitt’s Center for American Music, a special collections library that contains one of the nation’s most significant collections of 19th-century American music.
The Veterans Memorial Library, St. Cloud, FL
One of the less-known facts about famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright is that one of the select few who worked in his Oak Park Studio, Isabel Roberts, moved to Florida and entered into an architectural practice with Ida Annah Ryan, the first woman in the USA to receive a Masters degree in architecture. Together they designed many Prairie Style and Mediterranean Revival buildings; the Veterans Memorial Library (1922) is one of the sweetest and best preserved. Now run by volunteers from the St Cloud Women’s Club, the library is a perfect Prairie Style gem, adapted for the Florida setting. The smallest library on this list, it is now the St Cloud Heritage Museum. Be sure to stroll the main streets of St Cloud to see the other stucco, Spanish style buildings dating from 100 years ago, in this historic town that was founded as a retirement municipality for US Civil War veterans.
Seattle Public Library, Seattle, Washington
The Seattle Central Public Library was completed in 2004, designed by Fem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramous, it us a dramatic structure inside and out. So much so that the American Institute of Architects voted it as number 108 on their list of favorite structures in the USA. The library features an automatic check-out service using wireless tags on every book.
Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC
Home to some of the most celebrated, rare and famous books in the world, the Folger Shakespeare Library sometimes gets overlooked in our nation’s capital which is packed with must see landmarks. If you love books, go by all means, to see the First Folio of Shakespeare, part of the library’s world’s largest Shakespeare collection. The Folger has a notable art collection of paintings and sculptures, and the world’s third largest collection of English books printed between 1475 and 1640.
Library of Congress, Washington, DC
This is the library of all libraries in the USA. The Library of Congress is home to a Gutenberg Bible, as well as every book in circulation, today. The countless treasures are housed in a jaw dropping building that is a standout in a city filled with gorgeous monumental works of architecture. The Library of Congress was established by an act of Congress in 1800 when President John Adams signed a bill providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. Following the library’s burning by the British during the War of 1812, Thomas Jefferson’s personal library of nearly 7000 books became the foundation of the Library of today. George Washington is one of 23 presidents whose papers are housed here.
These libraries are just a start. We will feature more of the nation’s great libraries in the future. For now, add one more to this list. Your own pubic library. Happy reading!