university libraries
From the traditional to the whimsical; from the art deco to the high-tech - these university libraries sure are something to look at. Source: Adli Wahid/Unsplash

The library is a central hub on any university campus. For generations, these iconic buildings have informed the student experience, reliably serving the inquisitive writer, the academic citer and the last-minute all-nighter from one semester to the next.

And even as the world rides the digital wave, university libraries remain strong.

Shelves from floor to ceiling are still stacked with books, while students plan big projects on fancy Macs and iPads, academics use tablets to browse through endless journals, and slick electronic systems ensure the lending process is seamless and stress-free.

The library is an institution blessed with the gift of adaptability — and that’s how it stays relevant.

university libraries

Many university libraries stay open 24/7 so students can use their facilities whenever they need it. Source: AFP

According to a 2015 report by Gensler Research, libraries serve a critical role in the on-campus experience of today’s students. In a survey conducted on more than 1,200 US students, they found that campus learners greatly value the academic library, seeing it as a “bastion of quiet and a prime place to continue individual work, and see this core purpose continuing into the future.”

And what better way to inspire student learning than to provide a study space that’s an architectural, creative, or technological masterpiece?

The most stunning university libraries around the world

Bodleian Library

Location: University of Oxford in Oxford, UK.

No list of beautiful university libraries is complete without an honourable mention of the Bodleian Library, the University of Oxford’s main research library. It is one of Europe’s oldest libraries (dating back to the 16th century) and is Britain’s second-largest library (right after the British Library, the national library of the UK, no less).

It is part of a larger complex consisting of 28 libraries, where combined, they house over 13 million printed items, over 80,000 e-journals, and special collections such as rare books and manuscripts, classical papyri, maps, music, art and printed ephemera.

Nava Nalanda Central Library


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by @capturing.tiet

Location: Thapar Institute of Engineering & Technology in Punjab, India.

A relatively new library amongst many others, the Nava Nalanda Central Library was constructed in 2018 in the heart of the Thapar Institute Campus. The contemporary, five-storied building accommodates over one thousand students at any given time and even houses an 80-seat seminar hall for training purposes.

The library collection includes print and electronic resources — textbooks, reference books, competitive examination collections, professional development, leisure reading, and more.

Musashino Art University Library


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Bernard Catrysse (@bernardcatrysse)

Location: Musashino Art University in Kodaira, Japan.

This building is stunning from the inside out. This university library holds a collection of around 310,000 books and 5,000 titles of academic and other specialized periodicals on art and design. It’s home to one of the largest collections among Japanese libraries in the field of art and design.

The library’s vast collection of rare resources includes avant-garde art materials, natural history archive materials, Nara “picture books,” and Ukiyozoshi books — all of which are used by students for a range of courses, seminars, and lectures.

It also has an Image Library, which houses an immense collection of visuals — movies, documentaries, animations, and more — from every genre imaginable.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Beinecke Library (@beineckelibrary)

Location: Yale University Library in Connecticut, US.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is one of the largest buildings in the world that is completely dedicated to rare books and manuscripts.

“In the late 1950s, interest in rare books, the extraordinary philanthropy of the Beineckes, the University’s pressing need for a special collections library, and the genius of architect Gordon Bunshaft came together to give us the Beinecke Library,” writes Barbara A. Shailor’s introduction to “The Beinecke Library of Yale University (2003)”.

The library’s central tower can accommodate 180,000 volumes, while the underground bookstacks can hold more than a million volumes.

Library and Learning Centre

Location: Vienna University of Economics and Business in Vienna, Austria

The Library and Learning Centre (LLC) at Vienna University of Economics and Business is one of the largest economic and business libraries in the German-speaking area.

The building is eight stories tall and comprises a three-story-high grand central atrium with a glazed ceiling, which allows natural sunlight to brighten the space. It houses a collection of approximately 650,000 resources.

The building was designed by the late Zaha Hadid, a world-renowned architect famous for her innovative and avant-garde designs. Her works include the Guangzhou Opera House in China, Dongdaemun Design Plaza in South Korea, and the London Aquatics Centre in the UK.

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

Location: University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada.

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is home to the Department of Rare Books and Specialist Collections, which includes books, manuscripts and other wonderful materials.

Since opening in 1973, the library has grown to hold approximately 740,000 volumes and 4,000 linear metres of manuscript holdings.

As one of North America’s leading research libraries, the mandate of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is to excel in the quest for knowledge by supporting research and learning across all disciplines taught at the University of Toronto.

Tama Art University Library


View this post on Instagram


Toyo Ito’s Arch-itecture . Library at Tama Art University . #Japan #ToyoIto #TamaArtLibrary #Favorite

A post shared by Ayush Gangwal (@ayushgangwal) on

Location: Tama Art University in Tokyo, Japan.

Tama Art University’s library was designed by Ito Toyo — one of the nation’s leading architects whose international career has seen creations such as the National Taichung Theatre in Taiwan and Hotel Porta Fira in Spain.

The entire first floor slopes gently from the entrance, while exterior glass walls and large arches bring the contours of the natural environment surrounding the campus inside the building to create an incredible open space.

According to Ito, the library embraces nature as an essential part of the design. “People relax when they are surrounded by nature,” he says. The view of swaying trees from the nearby forest is visible from all around the space, while its concrete arches evoke a feeling of being in the woods.

The library contains around 77,000 Japanese books, 47,000 foreign books, and 1,500 periodicals covering specialist fields like art, design, and architecture. These range from reference books necessary for university classes to specialised research materials.

General Library of the University of Coimbra

Location: University of Coimbra in Coimbra, Portugal.

The General Library of the University of Coimbra is the biggest and richest university library in the Lusophone world. It’s divided into two buildings — the Baroque Library, built in 1782, and the main building, operating since 1962. The library holds a huge estate comprised of manuscripts, maps, periodicals, and books — some of priceless value.

In total, the General Library houses close to two million pieces.

Mainly addressed to the academic community, library services include several reading areas, some of which are for researchers’ use only. It also has an interlibrary loan service that allows readers to access documents that are in other libraries, both national and foreign.

Fisher Fine Arts Library

Location: University of Pennsylvania in Pennsylvania, US.

The Fisher Fine Arts Library, known as the University Library back then, opened its doors in 1890 and was the primary library of the University of Pennsylvania from 1891 to 1962.

Following the completion of the Van Pelt Library (the current primary library at the University of Pennsylvania) in 1962, it was renamed the Furness Building (after its architect, Frank Furness), and housed the university’s art and architecture collections.

The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985 and renamed the Anne and Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library following a six-year, US$16.5-million restoration that was completed in 1991.

The library is currently home to the Arthur Ross Gallery and houses the Architectural Archives, Common Press, and the Materials Library.

Disclaimer: This article was last updated on June 28, 2024.