The Best University Libraries in the UK

6th Sep 2011

To usher in the Autumn term, we've been adventuring across the UK to find the best university libraries in the land. Which ones made our top five? Read on to find out...

The Women’s Library – London Metropolitan University

As the most extensive resource for women’s history in the UK, The Women’s Library in London certainly deserves a place on our list. Tracing its roots back to 1926, the library has taken many forms, in many different locations, and has claimed a variety of influential supporters.

It can now be found in its new building in Whitechapel, as part of the London Metropolitan University. It boasts an impressive collection of primary archival resources, as well as essential research materials for those deliving into women’s history.

With over 60,000 books and pamphlets – and many collections of personal ephemera – the Women’s Library provides an opportunity to see historic events through the eyes of the women who experienced them. The exhibitions at the library, which incorporate the library’s holdings, are particularly intriguing.


Trinity College Library – Dublin

The library at Trinity College in Dublin is the largest library in Ireland, and many would argue the most beautiful. Established in 1592, it boasts an impressive collection of books, manuscripts, and archival collections spanning all four of its centuries.

Most significantly, the library holds The Books of Kells, as well as many other important illuminated manuscripts. The Long Room, located in the Old Library and pictured above, is particularly noted for its dramatic impact.


Charles Rennie Mackintosh Library – Glasgow School of Art

The Glasgow School of Art was designed by the famous Glaswegian architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and the Mackintosh Library particularly reflects the artist’s distinct style.

Built in 1909, the library was a later addition to the school’s buildings, yet still maintains the look of Mackintosh’s styling found throughout the school’s campus. The beautiful furniture, lighting, and décor provides a truly unique space for students to study and research, with the library itself providing a vast collection of resources. Many students here will study Mackintosh’s art while surrounded by many of his creations.



Maughan Library – Kings College London

The building which now holds the Maughan Library at Kings College London has seen a varied history. Built between 1851 and 1858, the site began it’s life as a chapel and a place to store legal papers.

Most significantly, the building was used as the UK’s Public Records Office for most of the last century, and was only converted to the Maughan Library in 2001. The round reading room in the main building was inspired by the reading room at the British Museum, and the former Rolls Chapel has been renovated and included as part of the historic library building. A grand place to study, the library also holds an impressive research collection for students.


You might recognise the Bodleian from Harry Potter- it's buildings were used to portray Hogwarts library.Bodleian Library – University of Oxford

As one of Europe’s oldest libraries, and the second biggest library in the UK, the Bodleian at the University of Oxford is seen by many as the ultimate school library. It’s roots can be dated back to 1435, with it’s current incarnation opening in 1602.

The library’s holdings are immense, and includes treasures such as The Gutenberg Bible, four copies of the Magna Carta, and even Shakespeare’s first folio. You might recognise the Bodleian from Harry Potter– it’s buildings were used to portray Hogwart’s library in the film series.

Is there a school or university library that you think is missing? Leave a comment telling us where we should be studying!

Gemma Waterston


  • Jane Bradley says:

    Love this feature, Gemma! Although I have to say that the Brotherton in Leeds should be in the next instalment…

    • Jo and the Novelist says:

      I got lost in the Brotherton once. Never been back since in case it happens again and I never get out.

  • Shabna says:

    WOW Kings students are lucky! I have to say though the Drill library in Medway for Uni of Greenwich is pretty impressive! Thought to be the longest library in Europe!

  • Edd says:

    Great article, know where I’ll be headed when in each of these towns. Thanks Gemma.

  • Dexter says:

    A lovely article, and an excellent place that Maughan Library. Despite some of my darkest, Relentless-fuelled hours having been spent there during 24-hour opening prior to finals, I still think of it fondly.

  • Cariad Martin says:

    God, I just finished uni and the thing I was most upset about was no longer getting to spend my days in an academic library. This feature has made it worse! Its like library porn.

  • Jess says:

    The Brotherton Leeds is an amaaaaaazing library, and also is home to Women’s Archieve North, one of the largest Archieve’s of feminist history in the country.
    The Mackingtosh library looks stunning. Going to have to check that out!

  • Francesca says:

    Have you been to Durham? I used to love doing my reading in the cathedral library, like Harry Potter! x

  • As it’s Director I have to add Senate House Library in London. One of our PhD students described it as ‘the best library in London’ on Twitter recently and it’s easy to why they think that – really beautiful with amazing collections – have to say, Trinity is also wonderful….

  • Charlotte says:

    Founders Library at Royal Holloway University of London. So many hidden sections, and it felt really good to work in.

  • Sarah says:

    These libraries are all really cool, but they’re not all in the UK.