College Library

A campus tour might stop in the lobby, but the library at your dream college deserves a second look. Between epic study sessions, research for your thesis project, sponsored programs, and other services, the college library could end up being a major part of your overall college experience. Whether you’re still putting together your college list or are a new student on campus, here’s a roundup of what the library has to offer.

Lay of the Land

Ideally, your college library will have the perfect spot for every kind of studier. Are there quiet rooms and private carrels for those who need to concentrate? Meeting rooms for rowdy group projects? Open spaces to chat and socialize? Keep in mind that you’re looking for a space where you will be comfortable, and that at schools with multiple libraries on campus you may find that you prefer the atmosphere at the fine arts library to the law library. Finally, be sure to check out your library’s coffee situation. Beyond providing fuel for marathon study sessions, library cafés are sometimes student-run enterprises that offer valuable hands-on experience to budding entrepreneurs.

Digital Resources

The physical library may be closed, but that doesn’t mean you have to quit working (although extended hours are definitely a plus!). An extensive online library will mean that you can continue your research into the wee hours (or when it best fits into your schedule), so it’s a good idea to take a virtual tour of the library homepage as well. Look for what your potential colleges offer by way of online journals, article databases, eBooks, and other digital resources that will make it easy to study no matter where you are.

Library Network

Libraries often collaborate to supplement the books, films, and articles they have with what they don’t. For example, undergraduates at Harvard have borrowing privileges at MIT and vice versa. A robust interlibrary loan system ensures you’ll always have access to the materials you need.

On-site Workshops

Does your library host tours and workshops on how to get the most out of your school’s research resources? We highly recommend that you attend one if you can. Professors will often assume that you are up to snuff on how to locate, use, and cite research materials (even though college libraries with their massive resources rarely resemble high school libraries!). Writing centers (places to get one-on-feedback on your essays and other writing assignments) are often housed here as well. Check the library website for research and citation guides as well for when you need a refresher.

Friendly Staff

You aren’t bothering your college librarian if you have a study question (“How do I find all your 1960s French New Wave films?” or “I’m researching The Hundred Years' War and don’t know where to start!”). In fact, you’ll probably make their day. No one knows a college’s resources better than these experts, and many universities even have subject specialists on staff in areas from astrophysics to theater studies. Do the librarians seem approachable? Can you ask a question on the spot at a reference desk or easily schedule an appointment? Many libraries have an “Ask a Librarian” function on their website so that you can e-mail, phone, or even text your questions from home or after hours.

Read More: Best 381 Colleges

Beyond Books

University libraries often function as miniature museums with revolving lobby displays dedicated to local or regional authors, art, and student scholarship. Special collections can hold rare books like a Gutenberg Bible at Yale University, historical documents like the 200 Confederate and Union soldiers’ papers at Emory University, or unique archives like the Chicago Jazz collection of photos, recordings, posters, and even ticket stubs at The University of Chicago. What’s your library’s claim to fame? Additionally, most libraries host events such as author readings, literary festivals, and writing workshops. Grab a schedule to see what’s coming up.

Want to know which college campuses boast phenomenal libraries? Our Best College Library list is a great place to start.

Looking for strategic college advice?

Get one-on-one help from former Ivy League and top tier admission officers. Our College Admission Counselors will help you find, apply, and get accepted to your dream school.

Learn More