Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke declared at his inauguration that Baltimore should be known as “The City that Reads.” Though the official slogan has passed into memory, Baltimore’s literary scene remains vibrant, in part because of the city’s plethora of libraries. The institutions below showcase the most beautiful libraries Baltimore has to offer, combining literacy and learning with gorgeous, historic architecture.
The Enoch Pratt Free Library is one of the oldest free library systems in the country, opening its first branch in 1886. Its Central Library in the Downtown area, rebuilt in 1933, features beautiful murals, decorative moldings and ceiling art, an indoor children’s garden and a skylighted Central Hall. The building is undergoing renovations until 2019, but remains open to the public to be admired by all.
Opened in 2007, the Southeast Anchor branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library was the first new library constructed in Baltimore for over 30 years. The 2.5-story, modern structure includes a glass atrium and café, with events for the whole family. And don’t forget to check out the grounds, where you’ll find a piazza, a reading garden and a bust of Baltimore-native musician Frank Zappa.
Housed within a former Gilded Age mansion in northern Baltimore, the John Work Garrett Library is part of Johns Hopkins University’s Sheridan Libraries. With walnut paneling, lush red furnishings, arched windows and books stacked to the ceiling, this beautiful library hosts rare books and manuscripts collected by two generations of the Garrett family. The research library is accessible either through the Evergreen Museum & Library guided tour or by special appointment during regular operating hours. Please see the website for admission rates.
The H. Furlong Baldwin Library, part of the Maryland Historical Society, hosts a collection of over seven million documents of Maryland’s past, including Francis Scott Key’s handwritten manuscript of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Flanked by white roman columns with red-tiled floors, the library reading room is an intimate yet stately space, often used to host private events. Admission is $9 per day for non-members—which also admits you to the Maryland Historical Society museum—and first-time visitors have to complete a registration form and present current photo identification at the front desk.
No list of Baltimore libraries would be complete without this 19th-century masterpiece. One of the most beautiful libraries in the country, if not the world, the stack room of the George Peabody Library is rightly regarded as a “cathedral of books,” with a black-and-white marble floor, gold-leaf embellishments, five levels of intricate cast-iron balconies and a skylight. Housed within the Peabody Institute of Music, the research library is free and open to the public for limited hours as part of Johns Hopkins University’s Sheridan Libraries.