This post was originally written in 2012 and was most recently updated in 2023
As the ways we access, process, and use information have changed, so too have the libraries that house the extensive collections of books, movies, music, art, and other media in which we find that information.
Libraries are no longer places to check out a book or to do homework; they’re meeting places, media centers, digital repositories, and wonders of modern architecture and design. While public libraries at the cutting edge of innovation may get the lion’s share of attention, many college libraries have also adapted to better meet the needs of the students and faculty who use them, adding amazing services and technology and creating spaces for students to study and meet that are sleek and stunningly modern.
This list highlights just a few of the libraries worldwide embracing new ideas and information innovations that make them stand out from the crowd.
Blackpool and the Fylde College
This UK-based college has done away with the old-fashioned moniker ‘library’ and replaced it with the much more futuristic-sounding ‘The Loop’. That’s what B&FC’s library is called, and it has many high-tech features to match its name. Students at the school can use kiosks to check books in and out (or to pay fines). There are also social areas and study spaces, all outfitted with plenty of power outlets and loads of tech for students.
Modern architecture is just part of what makes Pace’s library so cutting-edge. In 2006, the ALA recognized the school with a Library of the Future Award for its Media Patch project. Media Patch is an internal streaming system that allows the library to share media from campus to campus, bringing library resources to students anywhere and anytime. A comprehensive DigitalCommons, library blogs, and a podcasting system round out the innovative resources found at Pace.
The University of Chicago
No list of modern university libraries would be complete without including the cutting-edge Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at the U of Chicago. The library building is a modern marvel for its massive glass-domed reading room and its vast (3.5 million volumes and counting) underground storage facility. However, the robots that retrieve the books from the underground storage rooms push it over the edge. Books are requested online and then pulled up to the surface by robots, who track the books through a barcoding system. It takes about three minutes from start to finish, which is fast— maybe even faster than searching for them the old-fashioned way.
San Francisco State University
Traditionally, a library has been a place that’s filled with books, but that’s not exactly the case at SFSU. Its newly renovated library holds only 25% of its collection of more than a million books and other materials. Instead of stocking books, the library made room for open space, computers, multimedia stations, and a group study area. Only the most in-demand books are out for students to browse. The rest are stored in five separate buildings on campus. Students can request books from the storage units online, then robots will grab the requested volumes, bring them to librarians, and wait for students to pick them up in 20 minutes or less.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Would you expect anything less than a wholly modern and high-tech library from one of the world’s leading engineering, mathematics, and computer science colleges? Over a decade ago, MIT began building a resource called DSpace, a huge digital repository of its collections that holds more than 50,000 items today. Students at MIT can also take advantage of innovative bioinformatics, GIS, and social science data resources, as well as multimedia labs for video production, conferencing, podcasting, and distance education.
University of Southern California
Named one of the ‘Most Wired’ colleges by PC Magazine, USC has a library chock full of amazing cutting-edge digital resources. Students can use high-tech conference rooms, computer labs, and modern study spaces. Still, USC’s already sizable digital archives will be one area that will see a great deal of expansion in the coming years. With a $5 million grant this year, the school plans to expand its digital offerings to include even more books, photographs, videos, recordings, and other unique elements of the college’s collections.
North Carolina State University
North Carolina State will soon be home to the ultra-modern James B. Hunt Library, which opens in just over a month. This library will be among the most high-tech in the nation, with a bookBot automated book delivery system, group study rooms, and plenty of computer labs. The vision for the new library focuses on collaboration. There will be 100 group study rooms, massive video walls, and hundreds of digital connection points that allow students to share, connect, and better utilize library materials. All of these new services will be housed in a hyper-modern building that boasts ample windows and open space and climate-controlled book storage systems that will preserve the school’s collections for years to come.
Delft University of Technology
Designed by Delft-based architecture firm Mecanoo, the Delft University of Technology Library in the Netherlands is innovative both in its architecture and in the offerings it provides for students. The building is incredibly distinctive: much of it is underground, save for a large cone that provides a skylight for the central library room. Inside, students can enjoy numerous study spaces and computer labs, and those off campus can use many of the school’s resources through vast online repositories containing more than 52,000 e-books, 249 subscriptions to online databases, 15,000 online journals, and 33,000 open-access publications.
University of Warwick
At the University of Warwick, students can get to know their library intimately through the school’s ‘Check it Out’ program for new students. The orientation sessions introduce students to the resources the library has on hand, and since they’ve been in use, the school has seen a 717% increase in engagement with the library among Warwick students.
However, the Learning Grid is the coolest and most innovative feature at Warwick. This space offers students computers, whiteboards, smartboards, and Panaboards, which they can use anytime. Elsewhere in the library, students can check out plasma screens that tell them what’s going on at the school and use self-service systems to check out books, making it an all-around innovative space.
University of Vienna
The University of Vienna’s libraries are cutting-edge in many ways. In addition to an extensive digital library containing tens of thousands of journals, e-books, and databases, their mobile web resources have been made accessible through QR codes. Students can even order their own custom e-books if the original materials are in the public domain. Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, it’s an amazing example of modern design, creating a place for students to check out materials and study, collaborate, use technology, and just admire the view.
Located near Silicon Valley, this university has helped to produce some of the most brilliant tech entrepreneurs in the world over the past few decades. That tech-friendly attitude has rubbed off on the university’s libraries, too. There are 1.5 million e-books available to students and thousands of other digital holdings.
There’s also an abundance of tech tools to access these resources throughout the school’s libraries, including tech-rich classrooms and study spaces and a digital language lab. Even cooler, Stanford libraries host HighWire Press, the school’s ePublishing platform. Students can search for existing resources or publish their own research directly to e-books.
Yonsei University LibraryLocated in South Korea, this school boasts a library that’s about as modern as it gets. Students at Yonsei who want to use the library to study can use electronic kiosks throughout the building to reserve one of the library’s 6,000 study spaces, available to students 24/7.
Some are simple desks, others are glass-enclosed pods, and others are collaborative spaces with the latest technologies. In addition to study space, students can use a fully outfitted multimedia lab for playback and editing, a film viewing theater, training facilities, and a lecture room. Like many other modern college libraries, Yonsei shares many of its resources online with students through e-books and a rich digital collection.
The Free University of Berlin
The library of the Faculty of Philology at the Free University of Berlin is one of the most cutting-edge in the world, at least in architecture. Designed by famed architect Norman Foster, the bubble-like enclosure of the library encases four floors of undulating spaces lined with desks for study. It’s bright, sleek, and everything you could want a modern library space to be. It’s not all about architecture, however. There are several great digital features at the school, too, including The Digital Library, reference management software, and a library portal that provides access to more than 100 million library resources.
University of Aberdeen
The University of Aberdeen’s libraries have thousands of e-books and online journals. One of the most impressive libraries on campus is the Sir Duncan Rice Library, which houses the school’s special collections, arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences books in a wholly modern and sleek (not to mention environmental award-winning) setting. Within the building, students can check out an art gallery, use multimedia rooms, get help from assistive technology booths, or take advantage of more than 1,200 study spaces.
Musashino Art University
MAU’s library isn’t just modern in the design of its space, though the building is certainly eye-catching and impressive. Designed by Sou Fujimoto Architects, the MAU library features a spiral of bookshelves, some full of books and some still empty.
It’s a bit of an art exhibit in and of itself, though the library is also connected with the school’s art museum, so students can wander back and forth from study space to galleries. Students at MAU can also take advantage of tech tools in their library, including numerous touch screens and monitors throughout the building, an extensive online catalog, and even a site for faculty and student book recommendations.
The organic form of this seven-story building in Germany lends itself to some interesting architectural elements, both inside and out. Brightly colored spiral staircases, endless milky glass, and stunning views provide an appealingly modern home for some equally innovative library services. Students can use the Information, Communication, and Media Center, a well-appointed computer facility, and do a bit of data processing right in the library. Those off campus can also access an extensive digital library with 10,000 e-books and more than 22,000 journals.