19 of the most stunning libraries across the US

Riggs Library, Georgetown University, Washington, DC

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Riggs Library, Georgetown University, Washington, DC
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Thomas R. Schiff

Libraries are not just spaces to grab a book, read, and study.

They can also be architectural masterpieces that tell a story about the time and place they were built.

Over the last two decades, photographer Thomas Schiff has captured panoramic photos of over 100 beautiful libraries across the US.

They’re displayed in his new book published by the Aperture Foundation, aptly named “The Library Book.”

Check out some of his library photos, which span from Baltimore to Des Moines, below.


“The Library Book,” by photographer Thomas Schiff, is a new book that features panoramas of over 100 American libraries.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The Geisel Library at University of California San Diego.


The Boston Athenæum, one of the oldest independent libraries in the US, is pictured below.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The Boston Athenaeum.


To take the photos, Schiff often visited the libraries about an hour before they opened, he tells Business Insider.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The San Francisco Public Library.


That’s why most of the photos, like the one of Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library below, don’t include people.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.


He decided to take panoramic images because they give a fuller view of the spaces than traditional head-on photos.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

Cambridge Public Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Located in Baltimore, Maryland, the George Peabody Library features five levels of dramatic cast-iron balconies that stretch 61 feet tall. It opened to the public in 1878, and also serves as a Johns Hopkins research library today.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The George Peabody Library, Baltimore, Maryland.


“The panoramic format allows you to really see the library — not just what’s in front of you, but you can also see what’s to the left, right, and behind you in one photo,” Schiff says. “It allows you to look at the world in a way that you couldn’t otherwise see it in real life.”

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

Geisel Library at University of California San Diego.


It took Schiff about 15 years to assemble enough photos for a book.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

James M Gilliss Library at US Naval Observatory, Washington DC.


When he began his travels, he visited high-profile sites, like the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The Library of Congress, Washington DC.


But Schiff soon discovered many libraries in small towns that are just as magnificent.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

Riggs Library, Georgetown University, Washington, DC.


Vermont’s St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, for example, is partially an art gallery with a collection of 19th century paintings on its walls.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The St. Johnsbury Athenaeum in Vermont.


The Amelia Givin Library in Mount Holly Springs, Pennsylvania is one of Schiff’s favorites. He describes the 19th century building with ornate woodworking as an inviting space that the community takes pride in.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The Amelia Givin Library, Mount Holly Springs, Pennsylvania.


As a photographer, Schiff was not only attracted to the ornate book shelves and vast reading rooms of libraries …

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles.


… but also to their symbolic role as places for public education.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The Louis Jefferson Long Library at Wells College, Aurora, New York.


Cities commissioned renowned architects to build many of these libraries, like Frank Lloyd Wright for the Lawrence Memorial Library in Springfield, Illinois.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas Schiff

The Lawrence Memorial Library, Bristol, Vermont.


“It struck me how the people that built these libraries cared very much about the mission of libraries: to assemble a collection of knowledge about humanity and preserve it for people to see, read, and learn about,” Schiff says.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The Groiler Club Library, New York.


Pictured below, the Iowa Law Library is known for its two spiral staircases and marble paneling, as well as its specialized collections of legal periodicals and books.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The State Library of Iowa Law Library, Des Moines.


“It’s an interesting question as to whether the civic statements some of these buildings make are more important than the books they have on their shelves,” Schiff writes. “A library is invariably a statement: a realization of the prevailing or forward-looking civic ideals, by the architect, the philanthropist, the community.”

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The Sterling Library at Yale University.


Schiff hopes that his book will serve as an homage to libraries, showing why they’re worth preserving.

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The Portsmouth Public Library, Virginia.


“They’re really spectacular,” he says. “They were designed with the idea of putting a great amount of resources to make a building that stands out as a landmark.”

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From “The Library Book” (Aperture, 2017)
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Thomas R. Schiff

The Alden Library at Ohio University.