10 Premier University Libraries in the United States

by Ryan the Reader on November 18, 2010

As you may remember from your own college days, the library was (and still remains) an important factor in the success of many students. It is the go-to place for test cramming, paper writing, and study groups. The wealth of knowledge in these buildings is extraordinary and even awe-inspiring. College and university libraries specifically are home to rare collections and ground-breaking research developments. They are a significant factor out of many that make American higher education institutions an envy of the world.

However, even amongst university libraries, some are better than others. To distinguish which ones truly deserved to be in the premier tier of college libraries, we here at Written Word did some research and came up with ten that stand out and deserve to be recognized. Our rankings our based on the extensiveness of a library’s collection, its aesthetic appeal, and its usability by a student body – emphasis on the comfy couches. Dozens of libraries around the country met this criterion, but only a few stood out. Written Word is proud to present the premier college libraries in the United States:

1: Widener Library – Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)


Widener Library is the flagship library on Harvard University’s campus. It was first opened in 1915 and went under a major renovation project which was completed in 2004. The building itself holds approximately 20% of Harvard’s 15.6 million volumes of books and is the centerpiece of the second largest library system in the United States. It is named after Harry E. Widener, a graduate of Harvard (class of 1907) who perished on the Titanic in 1912.

2: Firestone Library – Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)


Firestone Library opened its doors in 1948 and was the first University library building constructed after World War II. Though it looks small from the outside, Firestone’s stacks extend to 20 underground levels which reach beyond the footprint of the building. In total, the building contains 750 miles of book shelves. Princeton claims it has the most books per student out of any higher education institution in the country. It is named after tire tycoon Harvey Firestone.

3: Butler Library – Columbia University (New York, NY)


Butler library first opened in 1934 and was named after Columbia University President Nicholas Butler in 1946. It is Columbia University’s main library building and holds a significant portion of the university’s 9.3 million volume collection. The building’s design features a row of columns along the front with the names of 18 influential thinkers inscribed above them.

4: Harper Library Commons – University of Chicago (Chicago, IL)


Although Harper Library is not the flagship building of the University of Chicago’s library system, it is the main building used for studying by students. The building went under a transition and renovation in 2009 to turn it into a commons building designed specifically for studying. Located on the historic quad on campus, Harper has become even more utilized than it was prior to its transformation. The building only holds 60,000 volumes, but students still have access to the campus’ 8.5 million volume collection.

5: Alderman Library – University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)


Although not as renowned as the Special Collections Library on the same campus, Alderman Library is the largest and most popular library building at the University of Virginia. The building contains 10 floors which hold countless stacks of books and study rooms tucked away in various areas of the building. Students frequently give their library system incredibly high marks which is a contributing factor to the University’s high rankings amongst various national college reviews.

6: Uris Library – Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)


Uris Library opened in 1891 and was, for quite a long time, Cornell University’s only library. Even though Olin Library (which is right next door) contains more volumes, Uris’ architecture and design made it too tempting to pass up. Uris holds approximately 170,000 of the university’s 7.5 million volumes and is still heavily used by students.

7: Monroe Library – Loyola University New Orleans (New Orleans, LA)


The suave and sophisticated design is just one of the many reasons Monroe Library made it on our list. Built in 1999, Monroe holds around 400,000 volumes and is a highly-regarded study building by students on Loyola’s campus. It has won numerous awards for excellence in the field of college libraries and annually given a high percentage of positive reviews by students.

8: Suzzallo/Allen Library – University of Washington (Seattle, WA)


The Suzzallo/Allen Library is one building on the University of Washington’s campus which holds over 1.5 million volumes out of 6 million total on campus. Located in the area of campus known as Red Square, it is quite possibly the most recognizable building on campus. Its design makes the interior look more like a castle than a library as students jokingly call it “Hogwarts.”

9: Bancroft Library – University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)


Bancroft Library first opened in 1905 as a gift from Hubert H. Bancroft. Being the flagship of the UC Berkeley library system, it is the biggest on campus with over 600,000 books and eight million publication prints. Although it is on the university’s campus, the library is open to the public. However, its most prestigious collections are only available to students and researchers who have a demonstrated need to use them.

10: Eisenhower Library – Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD)


The Eisenhower Library opened in 1964 and is the main undergraduate library on the campus of Johns Hopkins University. It has a unique design as four of its six stories are technically underground, yet all six stories are designed to have windows and natural light. The library is named after Milton Eisenhower, former President of Johns Hopkins and brother of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

RMoore February 8, 2012 at 11:27 pm

Sorry, I realize this is an old post, but I just stumbled across it. I wanted to point out that the flagship library of UC Berkeley is Doe Library, which does share a building with the Bancroft Library. Bancroft holds the majority of the archives, but most of the books at Berkeley are part of the Doe main stacks.

g December 25, 2013 at 12:05 pm

King’s college London library!

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