Atlas Obscura

The Library of Every Book Lover’s Dreams

The stuff of fantasy.

Photo: Alex/Creative Commons

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The A.D. White Library, at Cornell University, might be the template from which all dream libraries are made. Three stories tall, it’s criss-crossed with walkways decorated with curling metal flourishes and filled with arched enclaves of books.

Andrew Dickson White was the co-founder and first president of Cornell, and he had a thing for books. When he donated his collection to the school, he had amassed about 30,000—the addition of which increased the school’s own collection of 90,000 books by a third. White’s collection included books on witchcraft, abolition, and revolution. There were 4,000 books just on architecture—at the time, it was the largest collection of architectural books in the country.

The task of creating a space to house this collection went to Cornell’s first architecture graduate, William Henry Miller (who designed a number of the campus’ other buildings). Originally, the soaring hall housed only White’s books, although eventually they were transferred to the campus’ other libraries. But the space retains its original fantasy library qualities—it even plays a key role in Fool on the Hill, a 1988 comic fantasy novel set at Cornell.

For more on the A.D. White Library, visit Atlas Obscura!