10 Largest Libraries In The United States

A library is defined as a collection of books, media, and materials that are not only for display purposes but are also accessible for public use. Libraries provide hard and soft copies of the materials and may be located in a physical or virtual space. The libraries also serve as areas where students can spend their time studying or as common areas for group discussions. There are several large libraries in the United States. The size of these libraries can be determined by many metrics, which include the number of volumes held by the library, the circulation of library materials, and the number of people visiting the library. The following article discusses the ten largest libraries in the United States (both public and academic).

1. Library Of Congress - 34,528,818

Library of Congress - Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington DC
Library of Congress - Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington DC. 

The Library of Congress is the largest public library in the United States. Being the country’s de facto national library, it encompasses three buildings on the Packard campus in Virginia and Capitol Hill, Washington, DC. To travel between each building, one must take the help of an underground passageway that connects them all. The library formally serves the United States Congress and houses about 34,528,818 volumes. Initially, the Library of Congress was founded in New York and Philadelphia before it was moved to Washington DC in 1800. Between 1888 and 1894, the library was extended in a Beaux-art style, including murals, marble halls, drawings, and carved hardwood. The underground tunnels were built using steel and cast irons to ensure a solid experience below ground.

2. Boston Public Library - 19,090,261

The facade of the Boston Public Library in Boston, Massachusetts
The facade of the Boston Public Library in Boston, Massachusetts. Editorial credit: Marcio Jose Bastos Silva / Shutterstock.com

The Boston Public Library, situated in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, is the second-largest public library in the United States, which holds 19,090,261 volumes. Initially founded in 1848, the public library forms a part of the municipal public library system and is open to all. All adult citizens of the Massachusetts Commonwealth are entitled to borrow materials along with taking advantage of other research privileges. The library's vast collections include rare books and manuscripts on varied topics, including arts, art history, and American history.

3. Harvard University Library - 16,832,952

People at Widener Library at Harvard Yard of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
People at Widener Library at Harvard Yard of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Editorial credit: Roman Babakin / Shutterstock.com

Situated in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Harvard University Library is the third largest Library in the United States and the largest university library in the country. There are 16,832,952 cataloged collections within the walls, with more than 70 libraries combining to make up the entire Harvard Library system. The Library had its beginning in 1638 when John Harvard donated 400 books, making the Harvard Library the country’s oldest library system. Being a part of the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium, the Harvard Library is also the world’s largest academic Library and largest private library system. 

4. New York Public Library - 16,342,365

The main reading room of the New York Public Library in Manhattan, New York City
The main reading room of the New York Public Library in Manhattan, New York City. 

The New York Public Library is the United States’ fourth-largest Public Library. The Library is spread across 92 locations and has branches in the Manhattan, Bronx, and Staten Island boroughs of New York City. In addition, the New York Public Library also contains four research libraries that are accessible to the general public. The Library holds about 16,342,365 volumes, and since 1895, it has been a free, essential provider of books to anyone who walks through the door.

5. University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign Library - 13,158,748

Reading Room in the Main Library on the campus of  the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Reading Room in the Main Library on the campus of  the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Editorial credit: Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign campus is the United States’ fifth-largest Library, with 13,158,748 registered items. The Library was founded in 1867 when the board of trustees donated $1,000, which allowed the school to purchase 644 books to start the Library. Fast forward to the 1970s, and the University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign library underwent many transformations on campus. At this time, the Library was the third-largest in the United States and would receive a new, efficient way to organize books. The Library is best known for its materials documenting the life and legacy of America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

6. Yale University Library - 12,787,962

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Editorial credit: LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / Shutterstock.com

The Yale University Library, situated in the city of New Haven in Connecticut, is the United States’ sixth-largest library holding about 12,787,962 volumes. The library has slowly amassed its collection over three centuries and spreads its collection over a dozen locations and buildings. Every single element that is found physically can also be found digitized and connected by technology. The library is well known for its significant rare book collection, housed in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Lillian Goldman Law Library, the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, and the Lewis Walpole Library in the town of Farmington. 

7. University of California - Berkeley Library - 11,545,418

The University Library on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.
The University Library on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. Editorial credit: Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com

The University of California Berkeley Libraries is a system of 27 libraries and has a collection of 11,545,418 items. Some of the libraries are the Doe Library, Moffitt Library, Bancroft Library, and East Asia Library, as well as 13 other subject specialty libraries. There are also ten "affiliated libraries," which contain specialized research collections which are unique to their field and cannot be found in other locations. The library is well known for its Asian Studies Collection, as well as some of the special collections which are housed inside. The University of California Berkeley Libraries offers access to all, with most of their items available for on-site use.

8. Columbia University Library - 11,189,036

Columbia University, Central Quadrangle, and Butler Library in Columbia University in Upper Manhattan, New York City
Columbia University, Central Quadrangle, and Butler Library in Columbia University in Upper Manhattan, New York City. 

The Columbia University library system comprises 22 locations and holds 11,189,036 registered volumes. The library employs about 300-400 part-time students a year and features a collective of 615 staff members at all times. The locations average 3.5 million visits annually, with about 34,000 items being checked monthly. There are 850 databases to choose from that hold 115,000 images, 1,014,000 e-books and 645,000 e-images. Originally beginning its life as King’s College, the Columbia University library began in 1754 when the law library of Joseph Murphy and over one thousand volumes from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts were given to the school. The library has recently focused on becoming more inclusive on the digital side.

9. University Of Michigan Library - 10,778,736

University of Michigan Law School Library on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan
University of Michigan Law School Library on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Editorial credit: Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com

The ninth-largest library in the United States can be found at the University of Michigan, which holds 10,778,736 volumes. The idea for the library was conceived in the school's early part of life when the Act of 1837 provided a provision for schools that stated a portion of student tuition fees must go towards increasing the library. Asa Gray was credited for curating the library's assortment, including books that covered various subjects. There are 20 locations on campus which are broken up into graduate, undergraduate, science, health science, and many others. The Papyrology collection is known as one of the most prestigious collections of ancient manuscripts in the world. There are 7,000 items in inventory and 17,000 individual fragments which date back from 1000 BC to 1000 AD.

10. University of Texas - Austin Library - 9,990,941 

The University of Texas at Austin library is spread across six locations which hold 9,990,941 volumes of registered books and articles. For over 125 years, the University of Texas at Austin library has worked on achieving a rich and diverse ecosystem of books. The Alexander Architectural Archives is the library's most well-known establishment as they cater to the research of national importance. The library features an easy-to-use online database that includes over 850 databases to choose from. There is also an opportunity to talk with a live librarian as well as book collaborative studying times and spaces with peers. 

The 20 Largest Libraries In The United States

Rank  Name Of Library  Volumes Held
1. Library of Congress 34,528,818
2.  Boston Public Library 19,090,261
3. Harvard University 16,832,952
4. New York Public Library 16,342,365
5. University of Illinois - Urbana- Champaign 13,158,748
6. Yale University 12,787,962
7. University of California - Berkeley 11,545,418
8. Columbia University 11,189,036
9. University of Michigan 10,778,736
10. University of Texas - Austin 9,990,941
11. University of Chicago 9,837,021
12. University of California - Los Angeles 9,151,964
13. Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County 8,819,759
14. Indiana University 8,677,974
15. Stanford University 8,500,000
16. University of Wisconsin - Madison 8,421,198
17. Cornell University 8,173,778
18. Princeton University 7,226,744
19. University of Washington 7,203,156
20. University of Minnesota 7,111,311
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