As a student, you’ll get to know your university’s library pretty well during your studies. Even in a digital world, where journals, articles and other academic resources are available at the click of a button, the university library is still a large part of your journey through higher education. However long your degree is, there’s no doubt you’ll spend a fair share of time poring over stacks of books, usually with an endless amount of caffeine in your bloodstream.
Luckily, many of the UK’s university libraries are so vast, iconic and technologically well-equipped that hitting the books can be hugely enriching and inspiring. It’s not just the books within that have storied histories; many university libraries have their own heritage and lineage, places where academics, famous alumni and historical figures all flexed their intellectual muscle at one time or another. Here, we’ve collected some of the most inspiring university libraries in the UK, some of which you might find yourself studying within.
The Bodleian Library – University of Oxford
Known amongst scholars and students as “The Bodley” or simply “The Bod”, this hugely impressive University of Oxford library is also one of the oldest of its kind in Europe. Dating back to the 15th century, with its current incarnation opening in 1602, it’s not just the Bodleian’s age that’s impressive; one look at this famed research library’s collection shows you’re in the company of some serious historical heavyweights. Among its 12 million items, the Bodleian boasts a copy of The Gutenberg Bible, four copies of the Magna Carta and a copy of First Folio, said to be one of the most influential books of all time, penned by none other than William Shakespeare.
As if that wasn’t enough, the hallowed halls of The Bod have even been captured on the silver screen, with sections of the library serving as Hogwarts’ hospital wing and its own library in the first two Harry Potter films.
The Women’s Library – The London School of Economics and Political Science
Stacked with history, The Women’s Library is an inspirational testament to the struggle and efforts of women’s rights, from the early suffrage movement to the present day. With a collection of over 60,000 UNESCO-recognised documents, books and even original suffrage banners, this is an incredible source of information for anyone looking to delve deeper into the topic of equality, as told by the women who experienced it firsthand.
Additionally, The Women’s Library hosts all manner of women and LGBTQ-centric exhibitions, plays and workshops, many of which are free to students of LSE too.
The Sir Duncan Rice Library – Aberdeen University
One of the more modern libraries on this list, The Sir Duncan Rice Library is an incredible blend of innovative, progressive design and historic legacy. Built in 2012, its aesthetic prowess – which can be seen from across both the campus and the city – is matched only by its collection of a quarter of a million books and manuscripts, many of which are priceless.
On the outside, the library’s luminous facade acts as a beacon of both design and knowledge, shining in the daylight and glowing as night falls. The interior, meanwhile, is notable for its huge spiralling atrium that connects all eight floors, a feature that has surely factored into the library winning numerous design awards since opening.
The Old Library – Trinity College Dublin
Another entry on this list that takes students back to a bygone age, the Old Library is brimming with grand, scholarly tradition, housing over 200,000 rare volumes and ancient texts. Within its walls, the Old Library contains some incredible historic documents, including a copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels of the New Testament.
The 65-metre Long Room is also worth mentioning, as this is where the oldest books in the library’s collection are kept. It’s also lined with marble busts of notable philosophers and writers, so students are in the company of some of the foremost experts in their respective fields. Plus, you know you have some serious architectural clout when your library is said to have been the inspiration for the Jedi Temple in a Star Wars film – even if it was Attack of the Clones.
The Alan Gilbert Learning Commons – University of Manchester
Though not technically a library, The Alan Gilbert Learning Commons is situated right next to The University of Manchester Library, so for students here, the two tend to go hand-in-hand. Affectionately known as The Ali G, this 24/7 learning environment is both a technological marvel and a godsend for last-minute deadlines.
Winner of the Facilities Project category in the 2014 Guardian University Awards, the Commons can hold 1,000 students and boasts top-of-the-range IT facilities and a plethora of learning spaces to suit a range of learning styles. Designed with insights from UoM students themselves, who designed furniture, provided art and influenced the shape and use of the space, The Alan Gilbert Learning Commons truly illustrates how inspiring students can be.
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