There are over 150 universities in the UK alone, and the vast majority of them have their own library, so there is plenty of competition out there for which one is the best! Here I’m going to list what are – in my opinion – the most beautiful and interesting university libraries in the UK. Most, if not all, of these are accessible to the public for a small subscriber’s fee, so go and check them out for yourself!
Senate House Library, University of London
Senate House first opened in 1937, and it is the administrative heart of the University of London. The building itself is a towering monolith of neo-classical architecture, but set within is the Senate House Library, pictured above. Though it moved into the Senate House in 1937, the library itself is one hundred years older. It has that classical, hardwood style that is common in many of the UK’s older universities.
Brotherton Library, Leeds University
The Brotherton Library of Leeds University was built in 1936, and is named after Edward Brotherton, who donated the money to pay for its construction. It is now the central building of the Leeds University Library. The style is reminiscent of the government buildings of Washington, D.C. which gives it an authoritative, professional appearance.
Maughan Library, King’s College London
With the first building on its site being built in the 1200s, Maughan Library is a truly ancient structure, though its role as an academic library is a relatively new one. It began as a medieval chapel, was the headquarters of the Public Record Office during the height of the British Empire, and was acquired by King’s College in 2001. Despite its storied history, it is a relatively modern-looking library, with plenty of 21st century-style class. The dodecagonal reading room, pictured above, was inspired by the shape of the British Museum.
Founder’s Library , University of London
Founder’s Library was established in 1886 by Victorian entrepreneur Thomas Holloway. It was the heart of Royal Holloway College, which was intended from the beginning to be a women’s only university – one of the first of it’s kind. Although Royal Holloway began to accept male students in the 1960s, it remains committed to women’s education. There have been some threats of closure over the years, but as of 2016 Royal Holloway is still open and intends to remain so. The library itself boasts a wide collection of volumes, including ones about women’s history, art, humanities and science.
Palace Green Library, Durham University
Palace Green Library was first founded in 1669 by Bishop John Cosin. At the time, it was the first public lending library in the north-east of England. The University of Durham was established in 1834, and over time the university took the library as their own, expanding its collection through book donations. The university paid for various expansions to the library throughout the 1800s to accommodate the donated books, and by 1937 the university owned the library outright. The library’s importance diminished over time as Durham University built new libraries to hold its collections, and today the library is used to hold archival texts and historical displays.
Cambridge University Library, Cambridge University
Cambridge University Library is the largest of the university’s 114 libraries. It holds around 8,000,000 volumes, and has existed since before 1424, when it held 122 volumes. The building that it is based in today (pictured above) was first built in the 1930s. For decades it has been rumoured that pornographic material is secretly stored in the tower, but the university claims that this is false. It holds many special collections, including ones by C.S. Lewis, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton and Ernest Rutherford.
Bodleian Library, Oxford University
We all saw this one coming. The Bodleian library, Oxford, is commonly considered the best-looking university in the UK, and it is no secret that its halls and rooms were used to portray the library of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. It was first established in 1602, and today holds over 12,000,000 volumes – the second biggest library in the UK, behind the British Library itself. Any student wishing to use the library must make a solemn oath not to smoke in the library nor to damage any of the books – this oath was originally recounted in Latin, but not anymore. The roof paintings in the first image were painted by students of the university.
Honourable Mention: Trinity College Library, Trinity College
The Long Room of Trinity College Library (pictured above) is probably the most famous library on the internet and images of it are circulated widely on tumblr, twitter, facebook and on people’s blogs. It is located in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland (so it is not strictly located in the UK, but it communicates closely with the UKs biggest libraries). It has existed since the founding of Trinity College in 1592, though the Long Room itself wasn’t constructed until 1732. The upper gallery was added in 1860. The Long Room holds 200,000 books, most of which are the university’s oldest and most precious. The creators of Star Wars, LucasFilm, once got into a legal dispute with the library because of the startling similarities between the Long Room and the Jedi archives, but no legal action was taken.
Thanks for reading and I hope you found this interesting! Let me know if you have any other suggestions for the best university library in the UK in the comments!