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The 10 Most Beautiful Libraries in the United States

We already looked at libraries in all the major continents, but there were so many great ones in the United States that the article featuring libraries in North America had to leave many beautiful buildings out. Now’s the time to share some of the stunning libraries that might not make it in the top 10 of North America, but definitely deserve your attention.

1. The Armstrong-Browning Library at Baylor University, Texas

Image courtesy of Texas Tongs' Flickr stream.

This building is absolutely stunning, and with good reason—Dr. A.J. Armstrong wanted to create the “most beautiful building in Texas.”

Baylor University president Pat N. Neff offered him $100,000 towards the construction of a library, as long as Armstrong matched the donation. The end result was a 3-story, Italian Reniassance-styled masterpiece adorned with 62 stained glass windows, massive marble columns, intricate ceiling designs and other wonderful details. The philanthropist was able to justify every bit of the expense by pointing out that the “compelling beauty” of the building might be able to inspire someone enough that "if we by that means give the world another Dante, another Shakespeare, another Browning, we shall count the cost a bargain."

2. Morgan Library, New York

Image courtesy of Rob Shenk's Flickr stream.
Constructed in 1906, this amazing New York landmark was originally built as the personal library and museum space for financier Pierpont Morgan’s impressive collection of rare books, manuscripts, drawings, artifacts and prints. After Pierpont’s death, his grandson, J.P. Morgan, Jr., opened the library to the public in 1924.

Since the original donation to the city, the library has expanded greatly, and now the three different buildings that make up the library take up half of a New York city block.

3. Boston Public Library, Massachusetts


Image courtesy of koalie's Flickr stream.

Talk about old school: The Boston Public library, established in 1848, was the first municipal library in all of the U.S. Its first location was a small schoolhouse, but it had to expand almost immediately. In 1895, the current building, called a “palace for the people” by architect Charles Follen McKim, was completed in Copley Square. In 1972, the building was expanded, and it now contains over 8.9 million books, a number of rare manuscripts, maps, musical scores, and prints. It even has first edition folios from Shakespeare and original music scores by Mozart.

The building was declared a National Historic Landmark on the grounds that it was “the first outstanding example of Renaissance Beaux-Arts Classicism in America.”

4. Braddock Carnegie Library, Pennsylvania

Image courtesy of macwagen's Flickr stream.

The first Carnegie library in the U.S., this library was designed in an eclectic medieval style by Wiliam Halsey Wood and opened in 1889. Only 5 years later, it received a Romanesque-styled addition, doubling the size of the building. When it was first constructed, it featured a variety of entertainment options, including billiards tables on the first floor, a music hall, a gymnasium, and a swimming pool. Additionally, it held a bathhouse in the basement so mill workers could take a shower before accessing the facilities. These days, the bathhouse is now a pottery studio, but the tiled floors and walls remain.

Amazingly, this gorgeous landmark was almost demolished in the late seventies. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, but was closed in 1974 because it desperately needed repairs, particularly on the roof. Fortunately, a group of library lovers stepped forward to protect and repair the building; later, it was named a Historic Landmark.

5. Indianapolis Public Library, Indiana

Image courtesy of sergemelki's Flickr stream.

This library manages to balance old and new influences in a refreshingly unique manner. The original building, completed in 1917, is located in the front of the complex, while a massive, modernized addition from 2007 sits in the background. The first building was designed in the Greek Doric style and is often called one of the most outstanding architectural libraries in the U.S. The addition is just about as modern as can be, with glass and wood paneling throughout the building. More importantly, the 6-story, 293,000 square foot tower provides even more space for books and reading rooms!

6. Los Angeles Central Library, California


Image courtesy of hollywoodsmile78's Flickr stream.

Like the Indianapolis Public Library, the Central library of Los Angeles features a striking balance between old and new architecture. The original library building was completed in 1926 and featured influences from ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival architecture, including pyramids and mosaics. Unfortunately, two successive fires in 1986 left the building in desperate need of a renovation.

During the renovation, a new wing was added with Modernest and Beaux-Arts influences. The addition, completed in 1993 added an eight story aitrium and more storage space for the museum’s ever growing collection. These days, the library is the third largest public library in the U.S. and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

7. Hearst Castle Gothic Study, California


Image courtesy of Stuck in Customs' Flickr stream.

Hearst Castle is one of the most famous buildings in California, but most tour groups miss the opportunity to explore the second story of the building, which includes a massive guest library and a cozier gothic library and study. This room also played a vital role in Hearst’s life, as this was where the mogul preferred to do business whenever possible, which is why the room also served as his executive board room.

8. Skywalker Ranch Library, California


Image courtesy of Michael Heilemann's Flickr stream.

If you ever happen to get access to Skywalker Ranch, make sure you get a chance to look at the library, which is crowned with a 40-foot stained glass dome that allows employees and guests of Lucas Studios to enjoy their reading in natural light.

9. Suzzallo Library of the University of Washington, Washington

Image courtesy of Curtis Cronn's Flickr stream.

This Collegiate Gothic building was completed in 1923 and among its many impressive details are 18 terra-cotta figures set atop the buttresses featuring academic heroes such as Louis Pasteur, Dante, Shakespeare, Plato, Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Gutenberg, Beethoven, Darwin, and more. Inside, a series of shields depict the coat of arms from many top universities around the world, including Yale, Oxford, Stanford and Uppsala. All of these details were included to help the library meet university president Henry Suzzallo’s vision that the building become “the soul of the university.”

While the library is home to many rare volumes, the most famous item in its collection is one of the world’s largest, a photo book of Bhutan by Michael Hawley. Library staff turn the pages about once a month so interested viewers can slowly enjoy the entire work from front to back—assuming they visit regularly.

10. Fisher Fine Arts Library of the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania


Image courtesy of jeffhartge's Flickr stream.

In 1888, most architects were focused on Romanesque styles built with marble and granite. But this library’s architect, Frank Furness, wanted the building to reflect the architectural style of Philadelphia’s many red brick factories.

The library was already too small for the school’s increasing collection within only a few decades of its opening, so it received a number of additions and alterations throughout the next 30 years. Finally, in 1962, most of the school’s collection was moved to a new location and the former main building became the home to the fine arts library. In 1972, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places and by 1985, it was named a National Historic Landmark.

Of course, with all the thousands of libraries in the U.S., this list of beautiful American libraries still leaves out plenty of gorgeous architectural marvels, so if you feel your favorite library was left out, feel free to tell everyone about it in the comments.

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History
A Founder of Earth Day Looks Back on How It Began
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated

On the very first Earth Day in 1970, Denis Hayes stood on a stage in Central Park, stunned by the number of people who'd come to honor the planet. Now in his 70s, Hayes remembers it was like looking at the ocean—“you couldn’t see where the sea of people ended.” Crowd estimates reached more than a million people.

For Hayes, who is now board chair of the international Earth Day Network, it was the culmination of a year’s worth of work. As an urban ecology graduate student at Harvard University, he’d volunteered to help organize a small initiative by Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson. Nelson was horrified by the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, and wanted to raise awareness about environmental issues by holding teaching events similar to those being held by civil rights and anti-war activists.

Senator Nelson saw a growing disconnect between the concept of progress and the idea of American well-being, Hayes tells Mental Floss. “There was a sense that America was prosperous and getting better, but at the same time, the air in the country was similar to the air today in China, Mexico City, or New Delhi," Hayes says. "Rivers were catching on fire. Lakes were unswimmable.”

Nelson's plan for these environmental teach-ins was for speakers to educate college students about environmental issues. But he had no one to organize them. So Hayes, Nelson’s sole volunteer, took control on a national level, organizing teach-ins at Harvard first and then across the U.S. Initially, the response was tepid at best. “Rather rapidly it became clear that this wasn’t a hot issue at colleges and universities in 1969,” Hayes says. “We had a war raging, and civil rights were getting very emotional after the Nixon election.”

Still, both Hayes and Nelson noticed an influx of mail to the senator's office from women with young families worried about the environment. So instead of focusing on colleges, the two decided to take a different tactic, creating events with community-based organizations across the country, Hayes says. They also decided that rather than a series of teach-ins, they'd hold a single, nationwide teach-in on the same day. They called it Earth Day, and set a date: April 22.

Hayes now had a team of young adults working for the cause, and he himself had dropped out of school to tackle it full time. Long before social media, the project began to spread virally. “It just resonated,” he says. Women and smaller environmental-advocacy groups really hooked onto the idea, and word spread by mouth and by information passing between members of the groups.

Courtesy of Denis Hayes

With the cooperation and participation of grassroots groups and volunteers across the country, and a few lawmakers who supported the initiative, Hayes’ efforts culminated in the event on April 22, 1970.

Hayes started the day in Washington, D.C., where he and the staff were based. There was a rally and protest on the National Mall, though by that point Hayes had flown to New York, where Mayor John Lindsay provided a stage in Central Park. Parts of Fifth Avenue were shut down for the events, which included Earth-oriented celebrations, protests, and speeches by celebrities. Some of those attending the event even attacked nearby cars for causing pollution. After the rally, Hayes flew to Chicago for a smaller event.

“We had a sense that it was going to be big, but when the day actually dawned, the crowds were so much bigger than anyone had experienced before,” Hayes said. The event drew grassroots activists working on a variety of issues—Agent Orange, lead paint in poor urban neighborhoods, saving the whales—and fostered a sense of unity among them.

“There were people worrying about these [environmental] issues before Earth Day, but they didn’t think they had anything in common with one another," Hayes says. "We took all those individual strands and wove them together into the fabric of modern environmentalism.”

Hayes and his team spent the summer getting tear-gassed at protests against the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Nixon authorized just six days after Earth Day. But by fall, the team refocused on environmental issues—and elections. They targeted a “dirty dozen” members of Congress up for re-election who had terrible environmental records, and campaigned for candidates who championed environmental causes to run against them. They defeated seven out of 12.

“It was a very poorly funded but high-energy campaign,” Hayes says. “That sent the message to Congress that it wasn’t just a bunch of people out frolicking in the sunshine planting daisies and picking up litter. This actually had political chops.”

The early '70s became a golden age for environmental issues; momentum from the Earth Day movement spawned the creation of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Environmental Education Act (which was initially passed in 1970 and revived in 1990), and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We completely changed the framework within which America does business, more than any other period in history with the possible exception of the New Deal,” Hayes says. “But our little revolution was brought entirely from the grassroots up.”

In 1990, Hayes was at it again. He organized the first international Earth Day, with about 200 million participants across more than 140 countries. Since then it’s become a global phenomenon.

Despite its popularity, though, we still have a long way to go, even if the improvements Hayes fought for have made these issues feel more remote. Hayes noted that everything they were fighting in the '70s was something tangible—something you could see, taste, smell, or touch. Climate change can seem much less real—and harder to combat—to the average person who isn’t yet faced with its effects.

Hayes also notes that people have become more skeptical of science. “Historically, that has not been a problem in the United States. But today science is under attack.”

He warns, “This [anti-science sentiment] is something that could impoverish the next 50 generations and create really long-term devastation—that harms not only American health, but also American business, American labor, and American prospects.”

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entertainment
13 Great Jack Nicholson Quotes
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

Jack Nicholson turns 81 today. Let's celebrate with some of the actor's wit and wisdom.

1. ON ADVICE

"I hate advice unless I'm giving it. I hate giving advice, because people won't take it."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

2. ON REGRETS

"Not that I can think of. I’m sure there are some, but my mind doesn’t go there. When you look at life retrospectively you rarely regret anything that you did, but you might regret things that you didn’t do."

From an interview with The Talks

3. ON DEATH

"I'm Irish. I think about death all the time. Back in the days when I thought of myself as a serious academic writer, I used to think that the only real theme was a fear of death, and that all the other themes were just that same fear, translated into fear of closeness, fear of loneliness, fear of dissolving values. Then I heard old John Huston talking about death. Somebody was quizzing him about the subject, you know, and here he is with the open-heart surgery a few years ago, and the emphysema, but he's bounced back fit as a fiddle, and he's talking about theories of death, and the other fella says, 'Well, great, John, that's great ... but how am I supposed to feel about it when you pass on?' And John says, 'Just treat it as your own.' As for me, I like that line I wrote that, we used in The Border, where I said, 'I just want to do something good before I die.' Isn't that what we all want?"

From an interview with Roger Ebert

4. ON NERVES

''There's a period of time just before you start a movie when you start thinking, I don't know what in the world I'm going to do. It's free-floating anxiety. In my case, though, this is over by lunch the first day of shooting.''

From an interview with The New York Times

5. ON ACTING

"Almost anyone can give a good representative performance when you're unknown. It's just easier. The real pro game of acting is after you're known—to 'un-Jack' that character, in my case, and get the audience to reinvest in a new and specific, fictional person."

From an interview with The Age

6. ON MARRIAGE

"I never had a policy about marriage. I got married very young in life and I always think in all relationships, I've always thought that it's counterproductive to have a theory on that. It's hard enough to get to know yourself and as most of you have probably found, once you get to know two people in tandem it's even more difficult. If it's going to be successful, it's going to have to be very specific and real and immediate so the more ideas you have about it before you start, it seems to me the less likely you are to be successful."

From an interview with About.com

7. ON LYING

“You only lie to two people in your life: your girlfriend and the police. Everybody else you tell the truth to.”

From a 1994 interview with Vanity Fair

8. ON HIS SUNGLASSES

"They're prescription. That's why I wear them. A long time ago, the Middle American in me may have thought it was a bit affected maybe. But the light is very strong in southern California. And once you've experienced negative territory in public life, you begin to accept the notion of shields. I am a person who is trained to look other people in the eye. But I can't look into the eyes of everyone who wants to look into mine; I can't emotionally cope with that kind of volume. Sunglasses are part of my armor."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

9. ON MISCONCEPTIONS

"I think people think I'm more physical than I am, I suppose. I'm not really confrontational. Of course, I have a temper, but that's sort of blown out of proportion."

From an interview with ESPN

10. ON DIRECTING

"I'm a different person when suddenly it's my responsibility. I'm not very inhibited in that way. I would show up [on the set of The Two Jakes] one day, and we'd scouted an orange grove and it had been cut down. You're out in the middle of nowhere and they forget to cast an actor. These are the sort of things I kind of like about directing. Of course, at the time you blow your stack a little bit. ... I'm a Roger Corman baby. Just keep rolling, baby. You've got to get something on there. Maybe it's right. Maybe it's wrong. Maybe you can fix it later. Maybe you can't. You can't imagine the things that come up when you're making a movie where you've got to adjust on the spot."

From an interview with MTV

11. ON ROGER CORMAN

"There's nobody in there, that he didn't, in the most important way support. He was my life blood to whatever I thought I was going to be as a person. And I hope he knows that this is not all hot air. I'm going to cry now."

From the documentary Corman's World

12. ON PLAYING THE JOKER

"This would be the character, whose core—while totally determinate of the part—was the least limiting of any I would ever encounter. This is a more literary way of approaching than I might have had as a kid reading the comics, but you have to get specific. ... He's not wired up the same way. This guy has survived nuclear waste immersion here. Even in my own life, people have said, 'There's nothing sacred to you in the area of humor, Jack. Sometimes, Jack, relax with the humor.' This does not apply to the Joker, in fact, just the opposite. Things even the wildest comics might be afraid to find funny: burning somebody's face into oblivion, destroying a masterpiece in a museum—a subject as an art person even made me a little scared. Not this character. And I love that."

From The Making of Batman

13. ON BASKETBALL

"I've always thought basketball was the best sport, although it wasn't the sport I was best at. It was just the most fun to watch. ... Even as a kid it appealed to me. The basketball players were out at night. They had great overcoats. There was this certain nighttime juvenile-delinquent thing about it that got your blood going."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

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