Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »

Baltimore, Maryland

George Peabody Library

It's not hard to see why the historic Peabody Conservatory of Music's library has been described as a "cathedral of books." 

College libraries can be claustrophobic, institutional affairs that seem more concerned with eliminating distractions than providing a scholarly atmosphere. But the George Peabody Library on the campus of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, now owned by Johns Hopkins University, was seemingly designed to create a space where studying feels monumental.

Built in 1878 at the behest of philanthropist George Peabody, the library was originally part of an arts and culture institute–America’s first music conservatory–that he created to be available to the people of his beloved Baltimore. The Peabody Institute is still among the world’s finest music schools, graduating many of classical music’s finest performers, teachers, and composers. 

The space was designed with a huge open air atrium at its core with each level of the library overlooking the central space. It is outfitted in ornate railings and patterned marble floors and naturally lit in the daytime by a criss-crossed skylight six floors above the hall. The beautiful and cavernous space was described fittingly described as a “cathedral of books.”

Most of the collection are reference works dating to the late 19th century on subjects ranging from archaeology to science to literature, though students may no longer use this library as their regular research and homework depot. Currently the space no longer functions as a library and instead serves as an event space and backdrop in films. 

But the George Peabody Library is still open to the general public as per Peabody’s original intention. Peabody left more than a repository of knowledge for the city by creating a gorgeous space in which to enjoy it, and his vision for merging serious music with the rest of the arts was, to be sure, prescient and bold.