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NerdWallet’s Top American Libraries

July 10, 2012
Personal Finance
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What nerd doesn’t love a good library? NerdWallet has done the research and compared the collections, features, novelties, and historical significance of America’s greatest libraries. Whether they’re a travel destination, the heart of their town or the pride of their school, these libraries are notable for their beauty, history and, well, nerdiness. Here we present our list of the top libraries that should be on anyone’s list of hot destinations.

Folger Shakespeare Library: For the lovers of the greatest playwright

Located up on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, the Folger Shakespeare Library offers a welcome reprieve from the surrounding political battleground. The Folger, opened in 1932 as a gift of Henry Folger, is the home of the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s works. The library also features an impressive collection of rare renaissance works. In addition to housing these works, the library itself also puts on regular productions of Shakespeare plays that are open to visitors, making this library a great stop for any level of theater fan. The Folger also has claim to one of the world’s leading manuscript conservation programs that its uses to maintain and restore its rare texts. NerdWallet thinks this library is perfect for any one interested in literature, renaissance writing, or conservation, and it shouldn’t be missed by DC tourists.

Stephen A. Schwarzman New York Public Library: For free and equal access to all

Officially dedicated in 1911, the main building of the New York Public Library is home to an astounding 15 million items. Their collection includes just about any form of publication: graduate-level research texts, newspapers and periodicals, comic books, dime novels, baseball cards, Japanese scrolls, you name it. The library also boasts unique collections and historical anecdotes, such as the Arents Collection on Tobacco, or the fact that the Allied forces used the library’s map division during WWII. The Schwarzman building of the NYPL makes NerdWallet’s list not just for this impressive collection and history, but also for its commitment to providing free and equal access of its collection to all. Even at times when granting access to certain materials might have been unfavorable (think Marxist texts in the 1940s), the library has always stood by its conviction to offer its treasures to the public. The impressive reading room and ornate stone lines that decorate the library are certainly a draw as well. The library is currently featuring an exhibition on doodles done for Google’s Doodle 4 Google challenge. This library is a must-see in NYC.

Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library: For providing the best for its students

Nestled at the top of Princeton University’s campus, the Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library is impressive by any standards. Opened in 1948, the library was the first major American library built after WWII and is done in the same beautiful gothic style as the rest of the school. Firestone also offers 70 miles of bookshelf, and access to more than 11 million holdings. This makes it the largest per student collection of books and research materials of any university in the U.S. Firestone also contains an extensive rare books collection, featuring a Gutenberg Bible. The library is currently featuring an exhibition displaying all of its recent additions to its Department of Rare Books. Firestone library is also within walking distance of the Princeton University Art Museum and the historic Nassau Hall. Go to see the collections, go to see the architecture, go see this library.

George Peabody Library: For opulence and research

Opened in 1878, the George Peabody is a research library at Johns-Hopkins University. Designed by Edmund Lind, the library features a stunning Neo-Greco style and offers an extensive collection in all knowledge except law and medicine. In keeping with the wishes of its donor, the collection is always open to the public. This should be enough to attract any nerd. The library is a great draw for anyone in the Baltimore area, and its amazing building and collection are not to be missed.

Library of Congress: For being the Library of Congress

This impressive institution hardly needs an introduction from us. The Library of Congress is perhaps the most famous library in the world. It is the biggest library in the world with 838 miles of shelf space and 151.8 million items in its collection. As you might expect, the LOC is no slouch when it comes to history either. The library was started in 1814 with Thomas Jefferson’s personal library and has existed in its present location since 1897. The library also is a gorgeous representation of renaissance style architecture and decoration. The LOC gets our nod not only for having everything you could want in destination (great building, interesting history, most impressive collection), but also for being so friendly to the public, offering frequent and informative tours to visitors year round. This library should be on EVERYONE’s to-do list.

Widener Library: For having a few records of its own

Serving as Harvard University’s main library, Widener provides a spectacular haven for books and nerds alike. This library offers an incredible and picturesque study spot for Harvard graduate and undergraduate students. Opening in the front with monumental white columns, the Widener library is located on Harvard Yard and houses 57 miles of bookshelves and 3 million volumes, als0 containing a perfect copy of a Gutenberg Bible. This is the first and largest library in the Harvard library system, which makes up both the world’s oldest library system and the world’s largest academic library. The main stacks of Widener are only open to the nerds of Harvard, but its regularly occurring exhibitions and tours of the library system are open to the general public. Practically a nerd’s paradise.

Boston Public Library: For serving the community

The Boston Public Library was founded in 1848 and has resided in its currently location at Copley Square since 1895. The BPL is home to some 8.9 million books and contains fascinating additions to its collections, such as the original music scores from Mozart and John Adams personal library. The decoration of the building is also worth making the visit, as the library features impressive arched windows, carved goddesses and scientists, marble staircases, full-wall murals, and several smaller furnished galleries. The BPL makes our list because of its additional dedication to the Boston community. They support 25 neighborhood branches, maintain a Neighborhood Service Initiative, and have an active lending and downloading program through which they had 3.5 million items borrowed through last year. The Boston Public Library faithfully serves the nerds of Boston, and is a prime destination for travelers looking for American history and unique items.

Beinecke Rare Book Library: For being just plain awesome

Not as well known as some of the others on our list, the Beinecke Rare Book Library definitely deserves your attention. Located on Yale’s campus in New Haven, CT, this library is a monolith constructed for the protection of rare books of all kinds. Build of Vermont marble and granite, the outside of the library looks as if it were a massive stone tomb. Completed in 1963, this library features state-of-the-art environment controls to protect its extensive treasures, included one of the world’s largest collections of inculabula (works printed before 1500 AD) as well as a Gutenberg Bible on permanent display for all visitors. The Beinecke does not circulate its material, but allows it to be read in its controlled environments with permission from its experts. The library also contains a specially designed stone garden by Isamu Noguchi in its sunken courtyard. This one is too cool to pass up.