10 Best Public Libraries in America

A public library is a literary oasis. Explore stacks of books that have been sitting patiently on your reading list, gather with your community for local events and lectures or cozy up in a nook to do some research for a few hours. No matter if you're a long-time local or you're just passing through, America's most amazing public libraries are worthy of a visit. From remarkable spaces housing historic and rare works to architectural wonders crafted with innovative design, here are some of our favorite public libraries in the country. 

Central Library – Seattle Public Library, Seattle, WA

Once a single reading room in Pioneer Square in 1891, the Seattle Public Library has blossomed into an incredible system of 27 libraries. Created by a famous Dutch architect, the design of the Central Library features sloping glass windows in all directions to form a unique appearance. The Central Library has been rebuilt several times but has stood in this location since 1906. With its latest edition opening in 2004, the library boasts 11 floors, a 275-seat auditorium, and plenty of open space for the community to gather together.

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Boston Public Library McKim Building, Boston, MA

The Boston Public Library is the third largest public library in the country, boasting roughly 24 million volumes. The majority of the collection is housed at the Central Branch in Copley Square which opened in 1895. Named the McKim Building (as it was designed by famous architect Charles Follen McKim), this library was crafted in the style of a Renaissance cloister. Visitors will find displays of rare works, art, and extravagant décor. Bates Hall, which serves as a large reading room, features a lavish coffered ceiling that will leave architecture aficionados staring in awe. 

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Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Housing millions of books, recordings, photos, newspapers, maps, and manuscripts, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world (in book shelf space and collection size). Established in 1800, it is also the oldest federal cultural institution in the country. Famous figures like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson have been credited as the early pioneers for bringing the congressional library concept to life. The library offers a variety of tours, and the free Jefferson Building Guided Tour is a great way to learn about history, art, and architecture.  

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New York Public Library Main Branch, New York, NY

Formally known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the Main Branch of the New York Public Library has stood tall since its public opening in May 1911. Located in Midtown Manhattan, the Main Branch features four stories of public space and 2.5 million volumes. Designed in a Beaux-Arts style, the building is adorned with six towering Corinthian columns, three archways, and a grand marble stairway at its Fifth Avenue entrance. Head inside and explore the hundreds of collections which cover topics ranging from "Women's Studies" to "Accents and Dialects" to "Computer Science." 

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Central Library – Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles,

The Richard J. Riordan Central Library is situated in downtown Los Angeles. Designated as a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Central Library is more than just a place to check out your favorite books. The exterior of the building has an early, simple Art Deco design and the interior features stunning high ceilings painted with intricate murals. Be sure to check their calendar as it is always filled with events like lunches, volunteer readings, and science programs for children.   

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Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, New Haven, CT

Yale's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library is devoted entirely to rare books and manuscripts. Stretching across the face of the building are 75 enormous panels of translucent Vermont marble, framed within granite. The marble is so fine, only an inch and a quarter thick, that golden natural light glows softly through the building. Inside, visitors will find a six-story glass-enclosed stack of rare and historic books with roughly 180,000 volumes. Its rarest works, which are not usually displayed, include two volumes of an original Gutenberg Bible and the Voynich manuscript.  

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Main Library – San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco, CA

The San Francisco Public Library system has received numerous accolades over the years, including the Library Journal's Library of the Year award. In 1994, the city of San Francisco established the Library Preservation Fund which has helped to keep the library well-maintained and preserved. When guests walk in, large atrium ceilings tower above with natural light shining through its windows. The library is a great place to find your favorite books or spend some time studying. 

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Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago, IL

Named after the 51st Mayor of Chicago, the Harold Washington Library Center has been serving the community since its opening. The library boasts nine floors open to the public. Highlights of the library include the lower level's Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, the third floor Maker Lab, which has multiple 3D printers and laser cutters, and the beautiful ninth floor Winter Garden which serves as a reading room and can also be rented out. On the exterior of the building guests can observe numerous owl figures which were added to the building in 1993 by Raymond Kaskey. The owl figures are a symbol of knowledge, representative of the Greek goddess Athena.  

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Main Library – Salt Lake City Public Library, Salt Lake City, UT

One of the primary distinctions about Salt Lake City's Main Library is its unique architectural features. The building features over 176,000 square-feet of glass, with a five-story curved glass outer wall. Some of the interior's most notable features include fireplaces on four floors, an art gallery, and a coffee shop. The library holds more than 500,000 works including new best-sellers, eBooks, and book's for children's book lists. Are you a comic book enthusiast? This library also features what might be the largest graphic novel collection of any public library. 

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George Peabody Library, Baltimore, MD

The George Peabody Library may be part of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, but its works are open and available to the public because George Peabody (merchant, banker, financier, and philanthropist from Baltimore) had a mission of making a library "for the free use of all persons who desire to consult it." Established in 1878, this beautiful Baltimore library has a collection of over 300,000 with topic highlights including religion, architecture, Romance languages and literature, and exploration and travel. 

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