School Libraries

These are libraries maintained by primary or secondary schools, private or public, for the use of students, staff and parents.

School libraries are often the first libraries that people are exposed to, and as such, have an influence on people's opinions of libraries in general, even after they are adults. I still remember my elementary school library quite clearly: the books, the brightly-shag-carpeted loft furnished with comfortable beanbag chairs, the high ceilings of the space. I sometimes remember it spontaneously when I smell school library books at a used book sale. Fond memories.

However, some schools are beginning what I see as a long-term trend: doing away with the books in their libraries and turning library spaces into communal media centers and "learning commons" where ebooks, computer searches and noisy collaboration and socializing take place, replacing the quiet, book-filled spaces that invite inner contemplation and losing oneself in the private dialogue between book and reader for long periods. This is undoubtedly the way of the future and perhaps public schools can't justify the cost and space of real libraries any more, but it is still a sad trend in my (hopelessly traditional) opinion -- and one that will likely lead to less reading (and certainly less deep reading), perhaps to less regard for books and even for knowledge altogether. We'll see.


The Phillips Exeter Academy Library in Exeter, New Hampshire. With 160,000 volumes on nine levels and a shelf capacity of 250,000 volumes, it is the largest secondary school library in the world. It is part of the Phillips Exeter Academy, an independent boarding school. A good article about this library can be found here.



The murals in the library at P.S. 69 in Clason Point, the Bronx, New York. Concealed in every image are one or more books.



The library at the Jane Addams Elementary School in Long Beach, California. The mural, painted by artist Suzanne Miller, is titled "A Visit to the Jungle."



The magnificent library at the Bedales School, a private school in Hampshire, England. The library was completed in 1921, built as a memorial to the students who died in the First World War, using traditional English timber frame craftsman techniques inside a brick exterior, resembling a long Elizabethan tithe barn with an upper gallery added. Bedales School was established in 1893 as an "alternative" school, one of the first co-educational boarding schools in England, and now has become the school of choice for the children of wealthy film actors and popular musicians.


Library Buildings of Britain and Europe; Thompson

The library (lower and upper levels) at Sedbergh School, a private school in Cumbria, England. The library is located in a building that was built as a school house in 1716 (the school was founded in 1525, and began to admit girls in 2001), and later used as a library laid out in the medieval plan (book lecterns projecting out from both sides of the long hall toward the middle of the room). At some point bookshelves were constructed around the sides of the room, which was extensively remodeled in 1958.


7606 (King's School Library)

The library at The King's School, a private coeducational school in Canterbury, Kent, England. The school claims to have been founded as a monastery school in 597 by St. Augustine – making it one of the oldest schools still existing in the world – and was renamed The King's School in 1541 during the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII. The present library was constructed in 1848 in a Victorian-style building, and contains 30,000 books.



The Library at the Royal Grammar School, a private coeducational school in Worcestershire, England. The library is in the upper floor of Eld Hall, which was built in 1868 in Gothic style with a high, vaulted roof, and was refurbished in 2001.



The school library at National Cathedral School, an Episcopal private day school for girls in Washington, D.C. The school was founded in 1900 although the library is clearly a modern building.



The Picture Book Library in Iwaki City, Japan. In 2005, Japanese architect Tadao Ando designed this privately-owned special library of 1,300 international picture books to serve three local preschools. But it does have popular open-access days for the public too.


Irene Reed

The school library at Westville Girls' High School in Durban, South Africa. Westville is a public high school with about 1200 students and the library was constructed in 2005. It was designed by a local architect-parent and comprises four levels with a mezzanine floor between that serves as a public study area (pictured). It houses holdings of nearly 50,000 items.