While academic libraries of days gone by elicit thoughts of dark, moody stacks and massive, dust-covered tomes, information technology has altered the way we study and learn. Traditionally, libraries have offered a wealth of resources -- from housing full texts of articles and historic manuscripts to determining what’s being written and by whom on a particular subject. Today, libraries offer these same resources through new mediums, including mobile-friendly platforms, multimedia stations, group spaces for collaborative study and more. In addition to the services it provides, the library as an actual place remains an important construct as a gathering space for academic pursuits and intellectual exchange. Research shows the quality of a school’s library helps attract and retain the best and brightest students and faculty members while enhancing a school’s prestige and reputation.
The World’s Most Amazing Libraries
Whether elegant and ornate or minimalist and modern, libraries are not only bastions of higher education, but epicenters of their communities. What libraries do is inherently beautiful so it makes sense that their designs would echo this beauty; after all, inspired learning happens in inspired buildings. Amazing academic libraries are scattered across the globe; consider these ten awe-inspiring examples.
1. The University of Coimbra General Library, Portugal
Home to more than a million books in every field of study as well as modern technology, this four-story building, which sits atop a hill overlooking the city of Coimbra, is known for its ornate Baroque architectural style, including grand archways, gilded finishes, and decorative ceiling accents.
2. Sir Duncan Rice Library, University of Aberdeen, Scotland
This 21st-century learning space designed by internationally renowned Danish architecture firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen pays homage to ice and light. Opened in 2012, the environmentally-friendly building includes 1,200 study spaces, a gallery, technology booths, and a cafe, while a 'break-out room' offers conversation space and panoramic city views.
3. The UP Ipswich Library, The University of Queensland, Australia
In addition to everything you’d expect from a library, this award-winning facility has a rainforest garden and river which meanders through its center optimizing air quality and delineating separate spaces for quiet and collaborative learning.
4. The Hachioji Library, Tama Art University, Japan
Described as famous Japanese architect Toyo Ito’s “modern interpretation of a cave,” this building delivers a unique fusion of nature and technology with cavernous, wide-open spaces and stalactite-echoing archways.
5. KU Leuven Central Library, Belgium
Having survived reconstruction following two different wars, the library symbolizes knowledge and rebirth, and is one of the city's most famous landmarks. A beloved study spot for students, it houses a vast collection.
6. Helsinki University Main Library, Finland
Finland’s largest academic library, this imposing building stands at the city’s center and was designed to serve as a gateway to the new technological age. This distinctly individualistic facade seamlessly integrates with its urban block surroundings.
7. Central Library, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)
Home to one of Mexico’s largest collections, this landmark building is bedecked with Mexican painter and architect Juan O’Gorman's grand, colorful tile murals, which portray Mexico City’s ancient past.
8. The Maughan Library, King’s College, England
This 19th-century neo-Gothic building’s 2001 renovation was the UK’s largest new university library project since World War II. The building houses a stunning British Museum-inspired dodecagonal reading room and a medieval chapel turned special collections exhibition space.
9. TU Delft Library, The Netherlands
Designed to foster education, innovation, and creation, this iconic cone-shaped structure set on a striking green is an unmistakable and instantly recognizable campus landmark.
10. The George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University, USA
Completed in 1878 by American architect Edmund G. Lindt, this Greek Revival-style building, which you can see in the cover photo, has been described as a “cathedral of books,” with an atrium soaring upward, intricate embellishments and a latticed skylight.
The switch from a book-first approach to a people-first perspective doesn’t change the role fulfilled by the library, but the way it does so. This is a necessary evolution: as young people continue to embrace technology, a library risks obsoletion when it fails to do the same. A library which adapts, meanwhile, will continue to serve a hallmark of the university learning experience.