These four book meccas are stunning beyond words.
interior of george peabody library
Credit: Courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University

Museums, hotels, and parks aren't the only places to take in awe-inspiring architecture. In fact, an often overlooked institution is the library. The most striking ones across the country offer up far more than good reads—like notable vaulted ceilings, ornately designed reading rooms, and rare collections including manuscripts dating back centuries. The next time you take a trip make sure to seek out a historic library for some inspiration. Bibliophiles and screen-scrollers alike will get a back-to-school buzz when they step into one of these soaring spaces.

George Peabody Library

At the 19th-century George Peabody Library, in Baltimore, Maryland, seen above, you'll find 300,000 volumes, spanning topics from religion, British art, and architecture to topography and history. But the real allure: five stories of cast-iron balconies which guide your eyes toward a skylight that hovers a breathtaking 61 feet above the ground. This historic institution, which first opened its doors in 1878, with a dedication ceremony to the citizens of Baltimore, is also frequently booked for weddings, celebratory dinners, and events.

interior of william w cook legal research library
Credit: Courtesy of The University of Michigan Law School

William W. Cook Legal Research Library

A study haven for University of Michigan law students, in Ann Arbor, the grand neo-Gothic William W. Cook Legal Research Library draws visitors to marvel at the cathedral ceilings and intricate stained glass in its beloved reading room.  Each of this room's large windows boasts the seal of a major college or university in the form of a colorful glass medallion. The law library is also home to an extensive collection of documents relating to the European Union (it's the first such depository in an American university) and a variety of U.S. government publications.

drawing room of the huntington library
Credit: Tim Street-Porter. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

This world-renowned research and educational center in southern California is the area's preeminent hub for all things art and literature. Once the private estate of railroad magnate Henry Huntington (his Beaux Arts mansion is home to one of the two art galleries), this property is surrounded by 15,000 distinct plant species across several themed gardens. Its newest: A 12-acre Chinese garden with its own tea room and dumpling restaurant to boot. Inside the two galleries, visitors will find a wide-ranging collection of American and European art, including  an Andy Warhol Brillo Box sculpture and Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of The Blue Boy, recently restored to its original grandeur by way of a lengthy conservation treatment.

2019 marks The Huntington's centennial, and the institution is celebrating with a special exhibit called "Nineteen Nineteen" in honor of its founding year, featuring 250+ objects that harken back to post-World War America. (Think: suffragist pamphlets and original photographs of Halley's Comet.) As an additional part of the commemorative programming, five contemporary artists and writers will produce new works reflecting their recent research in The Huntington's collections.

beinecke rare book and manuscript library
Credit: Courtesy of Beinecke Library, Yale University

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Visit Yale University's principal repository of literary archives and rare books in New Haven, Connecticut (one of the world's largest libraries devoted entirely to rare books, with more than one million volumes!) and marvel at the innovative architecture. At its center is a six-story glass-enclosed tower of books stacks surrounded by walls made of semi-translucent marble panels—a design used to protect the delicate collection from damage by sunlight.

Among this library's most prized possessions are the Gutenberg Bible (the first Western book printed from movable type) and a collection of incunabula, the earliest printed books in the West, dating from 1455 to 1500. Though it's easy to lose yourself amid any number of the manuscripts filling its sprawling underground stacks, a trip to the courtyard just off the reading room is also a must. Its sculpture garden designed by Isamu Noguchi contains striking representations of the Earth and the sun.


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