College libraries can be claustrophobic, institutional affairs, 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 atrium at its center, with each level of the library overlooking the central space. It is outfitted in ornate railings and patterned marble floors, and naturally lighted in the daytime by a criss-crossed skylight six floors above the hall. The beautiful and cavernous space was described fittingly 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. Currently the space also serves as a popular event space and backdrop for films and TV shows.
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.