The proverbial "good" library
February 25, 2010 10:04 AM   Subscribe

What are your top three beautiful, comfortable, useful, inviting libraries?

There's a lively conversation going on in MetaFilter raging against ugly brutalist structures, and for some reason, a lot of them tend to be university libraries. I love books but have never lived close to a place with an inviting and decent public library. I'd like to visit one.
posted by Omon Ra to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
The Memphis Public Library is fantastic. It brings in a LOT of light, and has a lot of open space. I remember being particularly fascinated with the children's section, which seemed inviting and fun to kids.
posted by bunnycup at 10:09 AM on February 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Eugene (Oregon) Public Library is great. (I can't link directly to the Flickr images from work.)
posted by neuron at 10:12 AM on February 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Burbank (CA) Buena Vista Library is beautifully done, the children's wing is awesome and the adult wing is all done in a mission style with couches and chairs that, at least for the 3 years that I've lived around the corner, are in excellent condition. I go about once a week.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:12 AM on February 25, 2010

The Los Angeles Public Library. The main branch downtown.
posted by snowjoe at 10:13 AM on February 25, 2010

There's not a lot in Salt Lake City to inspire civic pride but check out this library. Ain't she a beaut? If you tilt down, you can see the glass elevators.

Library Journal's 2006 Library of the Year, boyee!
posted by Joe Beese at 10:16 AM on February 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Morrison Library (a large, two-floor room within UC Berkeley's main library.)
posted by Zed at 10:16 AM on February 25, 2010

Hans Scharoun's Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. Let Wim Wenders show you around.
posted by xod at 10:22 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Trinity College Library, the cathedral for books.

Various libraries in Oxford University, most especially the Bodleian and Duke Humfrey's Library.

An entire compendium of Beautiful Libraries - it's hard to pull a favorite from that list.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 10:25 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

On vacation this past spring, I spent two entire days (no joke) enjoying the Seattle Public Library. It's a little weird looking sure (the central branch is the one I'm talking about), but I felt very, very welcome.
posted by hungrybruno at 10:27 AM on February 25, 2010

The main branch of the New York Public Library, of course!
posted by oinopaponton at 10:29 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

My alma mater, University of Virginia, has the best college library in the country. The Alderman Library building is quite pretty on the outside, but the best part is the gorgeous, Rich Man's Living Room-style McGregor Room on bottom floor where you can read in large leather armchairs and watch the snow (this time of year, at least) from the windows.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:39 AM on February 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

The second-floor grand reading room of library east at the University of Florida looks, to me, like all libraries should--like something a school for wizards might have.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:46 AM on February 25, 2010

The public library in Princeton, NJ is pretty great, especially considering the size of the town and the serious competition from the university library. It wouldn't stand up against some of the schmancy university libraries people are posting, but I think it's a nice example of a community (admittedly a quite affluent community) investing in its public library.
posted by yarrow at 10:47 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The library at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore is pretty good.
posted by sonascope at 11:04 AM on February 25, 2010

I very much agree that the Burbank Buena Vista Library is great.

The Pasadena, CA library is even better, imo, though it has a bit of a different feel to it. The inside foyer is rather dark with many rows of tables with reading lights. Everything is made from dark woods. There are large, connected reading rooms with tons of chairs, desks, tables, and cubbies. Most of the books are held on multiple stories, each of which is relatively small, and those sections are lighted more brightly and have a handful of places each to read. The floors connected by sets of stairs that seem pretty old, but in a comfortable sort of way.

A good picture that sums up the atmosphere is on its page here. That's the first thing you see when you walk in.
posted by Nattie at 11:06 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Bodleian is pretty awesome, and for that sense of history Chetham's Library is the oldest in the English speaking world.
posted by adamvasco at 11:12 AM on February 25, 2010

Seconding Pasadena and downtown LA. Both are exactly what libraries should be.
posted by something something at 11:39 AM on February 25, 2010

Amsterdam's new public library has spectacular views of the city, great interior design, its own theatre and a tasty, good value café/restaurant on the top floor. All accessible to anybody who walks in the door. I love it.
posted by rongorongo at 11:41 AM on February 25, 2010

The Rensselaerville Library, which I started using in grade school.

The Department of Interior library, where I spent many happy hours enjoying the scholarly glow as a college freshman.
posted by jgirl at 11:50 AM on February 25, 2010

The University of Pennsylvania's Fisher Fine Arts Library is a lovely Frank Furness building. The reading room is quite nice but the stacks are kind of cementy.
posted by sciencegeek at 11:55 AM on February 25, 2010

I have a giant soft spot for the main branch of the Nashville public library (on Church St), which is in a gorgeous old limestone building full of light, has a sweet art gallery (last time I was there, it had a great exhibit on letterpress), and is enthusiastically used by all kinds of folks.
posted by ITheCosmos at 12:04 PM on February 25, 2010

Boston Public Library - it has a courtyard, what more can you ask?
posted by kaybdc at 12:08 PM on February 25, 2010

Seconding the Eugene, OR public library. It is great!
posted by katie at 12:09 PM on February 25, 2010

It's tough to beat the Library of Congress Reading Room.
posted by googly at 12:13 PM on February 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

There's a lot of arguments against, but I personally love the Minneapolis Central Library. It looks daunting on entry but ultimately is one of the most usable libraries I've ever frequented.
posted by medea42 at 12:24 PM on February 25, 2010

It's small enough, but I really like Johnston Central Library and Farnham Centre in Cavan town, here in Ireland. The building is gorgeous, and the library is also full of light, has lots of space for circulation, clear organisation, a great exhibition space, an inviting area for kids, and a public space outside that's actually used and pleasant to be in.
posted by carbide at 1:08 PM on February 25, 2010

I really like the older (McKim Building) half of the Boston Public Library. The newer (Johnson Building) half fits in the "ugly brutalist" corner of my mind, though I'm not an architect by any means.

Nthing the downtown branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. I miss it.

And if you do find yourself in LA, there are nice university libraries there. As a USC alum, I have to put Doheny Memorial Library first (and there's an extensive page on its history, architecture, and interior design here), but I can grudgingly admit that the Powell Library at UCLA is pretty too.
posted by sigmagalator at 1:09 PM on February 25, 2010

I always liked the Perry-Castaneda Library (PCL) when I was in college. You could stop in if you go to SXSW!
posted by TedW at 1:23 PM on February 25, 2010

The library at Agnes Scott college in Decatur, GA (a close-in suburb of Atlanta) is gorgeous and airy and fantastic.

Hee! I work at one of the libraries mentioned in this thread.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:56 PM on February 25, 2010

Yale's Beinecke Library is a fascinating collection of rare books from the Gutenberg Bible and medieval illuminated manuscripts all the way through now. It also looks real cool from the outside.

(i miss college)
posted by bookgirl18 at 2:05 PM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Phoenix Public Library is awesome. Lots of comfy chairs, art, and really cool bathrooms.

The Salt Lake Public library is equally nice, but its bathrooms aren't quite as cool.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:41 PM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think I'm gonna need to go on a ver extended field trip :-)
posted by Omon Ra at 4:29 PM on February 25, 2010

The Geisel Library at UCSD is stunning.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:24 PM on February 25, 2010

Another vote for the Bod - especially the upper Rad Cam on a sunny day (sorry, those aren't the best photos, but they were the best I could find). However, while Duke Humphrey's is rather lovely, it's not actually a particularly great place to work in my opinion - dim lighting, desks are a bit cramped, and no pens allowed.
posted by iona at 5:53 PM on February 25, 2010

The Wasington Square Library in Kalamazoo, Michigan is about as cozy and inviting as I have ever seen.
posted by jasondigitized at 7:32 PM on February 25, 2010

And the Central Branch in the 'Zoo' is pretty sweet too.
posted by jasondigitized at 7:36 PM on February 25, 2010

It's not useful to your question, but Schaumburg Township District Library in Schaumburg, Illinois was a warm and inviting library for me as a child and teenager (I was a major bibliophile as a kid).

Reason it's not useful is that they moved to a new structure in the late nineties (long after I had moved away), so the memories are for a building and environment that doesn't exist any longer, and I couldn't say what their new facilities are like.
posted by WCityMike at 8:07 PM on February 25, 2010

I happened to stumble upon these two posts today (not all public libraries, though, but georgeous buildings!) :
The Most Amazing Libraries In The World
The Most Amazing Libraries In The World Part Two
posted by lioness at 8:18 AM on February 26, 2010

Thirding? the downtown LA Public Library and Pasadena Public Library.
New York Public Library
University of Michigan law school library

I'm worried about what will happen to city libraries.
posted by odeon at 2:38 PM on February 26, 2010

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