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Aug 02 2017
by Jamie Su

The Top 10 Prettiest College Libraries in North America

By Jamie Su - Aug 02 2017
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Have you ever dreamed of owning a grand library with intricate wooden furniture, a spiralling staircase, chandeliers and bookshelves filled with heavenly books? That would be a dream come true, wouldn't it? Well, there is the next best thing: Spending time IN a pretty library. Although we rave about the prettiest college campuses and which college has the best architecture, we're forgetting something even more important: College libraries — also known as college students' home or camping place during exam season.

To appreciate and remind yourself of how gorgeous libraries really are, here are the top 10 prettiest college libraries located in North America in no particular order — because a good book lover always appreciates a stunning library. 

1. Emmanuel College Library, University of Toronto

Federated with the University of Toronto, Emmanuel College, which is affiliated with the United Church of Canada, was founded in 1928. Better yet, within this college is a magically breathtaking Hogwarts library come to life with its dangling chandeliers, intricately designed glass windows, toasty fireplace and wooden bookshelves filled with an array of books, known as Emmanuel College Library. With the college being known for its strengths in social justice, diversity and theology enquiry, this beautiful library contains resources for theology majors to utilize, including a collection of 80,000 items pertaining to topics like theology and Christianity.

What makes this college library even more unique is the fact that English pop/rock band Tears for Fears filmed one of their hits, "Head Over Heels," at this enchanting location in June 1985.

2. Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library, Princeton University

Founded in 1948, Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library is Princeton University's main campus library that not only carries specialized texts in humanities and social sciences, but also contains a great amount of historical significance. It was the first large American university library constructed after World War II, and with more than 70 miles (110 km) of bookshelves, it is one of the largest open-stack libraries. Impressively, it also has the most books per enrolled student than any college in the United States.

Interestingly enough, within the basement of Firestone Library is a large glass wall mirror that seems just like any other wall. However, behind it is actually a room filled with a rare collection of antique books with smooth covers and tattered pages. Security guards screen you before you enter the room, and if you want to analyze any of the antiques, you're required to wear gloves.

3. Uris Library, Cornell University 

Maybe magic is real, and maybe it lies within this library. With royal red carpeting, grand golden railings and endless shelves, Uris Library displays an uncanny resemblance to Hogwarts and is the oldest library building at Cornell University. Lucky Muggle students of Cornell University are able to get a taste of the incredible 24-hour study spaces, open from Sunday through Thursday.

Furthermore, within Uris Library is the Andrew Dickson White Library, named after Cornell's first president. This spectacular "library within a library" was formed to hold Dickson's personal collection of 30,000 books. After opening in 1891, Dickson donated his entire collection to the library named after him, contributing to Uris Library and Olin Library's impressive combined collection of nearly two million volumes.

4. Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University

Beyond the revolving glass doors of the entrance to the grand Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library is a heavenly sight of a glass tower full of books. Beinecke Library is one of the world's largest libraries dedicated to rare books and manuscripts with an astonishing amount of space; the library's central tower has room for 180,000 volumes and stacks for more than a million volumes in the underground book stacks. Yale University takes pride in preserving these materials by using temperature and humidity controls, as well as marble panels that aid in filtering light.

Though many college libraries require you to be a student of the school in order to enter, the jaw-dropping Beinecke Library is open to visitors who want to admire permanent exhibitions, such as Audubon's Birds of America and the first Western book printed from movable type known as the Gutenberg Bible. 

5. Douglas Library, Queen's University 

Douglas Library at Queen's University is yet another replica of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series, especially with tinted glass windows and the redhead in the image that resembles one of the beloved characters, Ginny Weasely. This Canadian university library is the oldest Queen's library and is named after James Douglas, the university's Chancellor from 1915 to 1918.

A popular legend about Douglas Library among Queen's university students is that the library was built backward. Because the back entrance, which is the east library entrance, is considered more majestic than the other two entrances, the theory was that the side that faces away from University Avenue was supposed to face the street. This legend, however, was proved untrue. The reason why the grander entrance was designed to be more eye-catching was to attract students who commonly gathered at a huge open park space that used to be on the east side of the library.

6. Joseph Regenstein Library, University of Chicago 

The lavish Joseph Regenstein Library, named after a fourth-generation Chicagoan and industrialist who innovated products in the paper, plastic and chemical fields, contains 4.5 million print volumes in subjects like humanities, social sciences, business and divinityPrompted by Regenstein's interest in the development of Chicago's institutions, $10 million was donated by the Joseph and Helen Regenstein Foundation towards the graduate research library on November 9, 1965.

To resemble small and traditional gothic buildings, Regenstein Library's perimeter was designed to be broken at regular intervals by projecting bays, which minimized the idea of great size. Thus, while taking into account costs for amenities, the total cost of building seven floors and a mechanical penthouse that makes up Regenstein library amounts to a hefty $20,750,000.

7. Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, Harvard University

With gilded lamps, a uniquely designed blue ceiling and a fetching brick interior, Harvard University's flagship library, Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, is no doubt one of the fanciest college libraries in North America with a saddening yet touching story of how the library was originally formed. 

Built in loving memory of her son, who was a part of the class of 1907 and tragically died in the sinking of the Titanic, Eleanor Elkins Widener fulfilled Harry Elkins Widener's request in his will and donated his personal collection to the library. As a bibliophile, Harry began collecting a variety of books, manuscripts and drawings in his short lifetime during his undergraduate studies at HarvardCurrently, this Harvard library now has over 50 miles of shelves and can hold three million volumes

8. Birks Reading Room, McGill University 

As a quaint Canadian university library that feels rather homely, Birks Reading Room at McGill University is one of the smallest libraries on campus, consisting of only three available courses and 40 chairs in total. The wooden furniture and tinted glass windows also provide a mysterious vibe to this relaxing building. Distinct from any other college library, Birks Reading Room requires students to remove their shoes at the door before they enter to keep the wooden floors clean and to maintain the library's calm ambience. 

With over 20,000 monographs relating to topics like biblical studies, comparative religions, modern theology, Hinduism and Buddhism, it has an ample amount of resources to support the teaching program in the Faculty of Religious Studies. 

9. Morrison Memorial Library, University of California, Berkeley

Another "library within a library" exists within UC Berkeley. At the lobby of the Doe Memorial Library is the Morrison Memorial Library, which is known as a "no study library" as its aesthetically pleasing and relaxing atmosphere is meant for leisurely reading. The library has comfortable couch chairs for students to relax in and has a collection of both classic and contemporary fiction. Meant to please bibliophiles and help students take a break from their strenuous academics, Morrison Library is known for providing recently published fiction and non-fiction, audiobooks, travel books and even subscriptions to magazines and newspapers.

In 2000, Morrison Library was featured in the Abercrombie & Fitch Back-to-School Catalogue.

10. George Peabody Library, John Hopkins University 

Entering the Peabody Institute of Music at John Hopkins University leads to the wondrous George Peabody Library that is like the Beast's elegant library in the classic Disney tale, "Beauty and The Beast." This library, which has six tiers of cast-iron columns, detailed railings and classical gilded embellishments, holds the Sheridan Libraries Special Collections and contains a total of 300,000 volumes. As quoted by George Peabody himself, it is "an extensive library, well-furnished in every department of knowledge." 

Although it is typically known as a research library with rare antiques and a breathtaking sight, this amazing location is also used for special events like weddings, due to its grand and picturesque appearance.  

These college libraries are like something out of the perfect book or movie scene. Although people say magic isn't real, remember, it does exist — it exists within magnificent college libraries with beautiful architecture and important historical significance that even you can find on your very own campus. 

Lead Image Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

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Jamie Su - University of Waterloo

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