Hit the books in the nation's best libraries
by Shannon Lee | March 23, 2012
Libraries have long been considered the heart of education. These hushed buildings contain millions of rare and modern works, important documents, works of literary art, educational resources and so much more. Today's libraries hold the most modern periodicals alongside the oldest works of the literary masters.
Though Americans check out an average of more than seven books per year, libraries offer much more than the written word -- 98.7 percent of libraries allow public access to the Internet, more than 65 percent of libraries provide resources for job seekers, and academic librarians answer more than 56.1 million questions per year, according to a 2010 study by the American Library Association.
Where can you find the best libraries? That depends on what you consider "best." Some libraries have carefully-curated historic collections, while others have pop-culture bragging rights. Some have stunning architecture, while others are named after presidents. Regardless of their claim to fame, these top 50 best libraries in America are the cream of the crop.
Cultural icons and architectural giants
These libraries aren't just renowned for the great works inside their walls -- they are well-known for the walls themselves. Whether these excellent examples of architecture have turned the buildings into works of art or the history of the library system has made it a mainstay for generations, these libraries are part of the very fabric of our country's history.
- The Class of 1945 Library at Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH
- The George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University
- The City Library in Salt Lake City, UT
- The Morgan Library and Museum in New York City
- The Seattle Public Library
- Boston Public Library
- The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, CA
- Mechanics' Institute Library and Chess Room in San Francisco, CA
- William Wesley Peters Library at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture
- The Hampden-Booth Theatre Library in New York
- Iowa State Capitol Law Library
- The University Club Library in New York
- The Geisel Library at University of California San Diego
- Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC
- Chicago Public Library
- Riggs Library at Georgetown University
- Darby Free Library in Darby, PA
The presidential seal of approval
Presidential libraries offer a wealth of official papers, records, collections and memorabilia from the days of our U.S. presidents' time in office. There are 13 presidential libraries operated by the National Archives and Records Administration, each with a unique collection. If you want to learn more about the political history of the United States, these are the best places to do so.
- The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, IA
- Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY
- Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, MO
- Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, KS
- John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, MA
- Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, TX
- The Nixon Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, CA
- Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum in Ann Arbor, MI
- Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta, GA
- Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA
- George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, TX
- William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, AR
- George W. Bush Presidential Library in Lewisville, TX
Libraries that have a pop culture history
The New York Public Library was immortalized forever in "Ghostbusters." The "National Treasure" films made the Library of Congress look like one of the coolest places on earth. John Nash of "A Beautiful Mind" almost literally lived among the stacks at Princeton. Remember the gorgeous law library in "Philadelphia?" These libraries are not only great places to find that perfect book; they are also great places to live out a little bit of pop culture history.
- New York Public Library: Mid-Manhattan Library
- Princeton University Library
- The Library of Congress
- Anne and Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library
Give learning the old college try
College is all about learning, and these libraries make certain the students on campus can do it well. These libraries are vast, complete with works from the masters and the latest periodicals. No matter what you need to research, it can be found here -- and if not, it's a sure bet that very knowledgeable librarians can track it down.
- Suzzallo and Allen Libraries at the University of Washington
- Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University
- SLAC Research Library operated by Stanford University
- The Bancroft Library at University of California Berkeley
- San Diego State University Library and Information Access
- The Lilly Library at University of Indiana Bloomington
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University
- Kirby Library at Lafayette College
- Widener Library at Harvard University
- Cornell University Law Library
- University Library at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The libraries that philanthropy built
Andrew Carnegie was arguably one of the most generous philanthropists in recent history, and there is a vast network of libraries to show for it. Of the 3,500 libraries in the United States in 1919, nearly half of them were built with construction grants from Carnegie. Today, over 1,000 of the original buildings still exist, and over 800 of them are still used as libraries.
- The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
- Carnegie Libraries of California
- Mt. Pleasant Library in Washington, D.C.
- Muncie Public Library in Muncie, Ind.
- Albany Public Library in Albany, Ore.
From Shakespeare's works to modern law collections, these libraries have a wealth of knowledge within their hushed aisles. Get your education with a dash of history, architectural might and even pop-culture fun at one of these 50 best libraries in America.