Browse L.A.'s World-Class Libraries

Main Exhibition Hall at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens | Photo by Tim Street-Porter, courtesy of The Huntington Library
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Los Angeles libraries are among the most renowned in the country, featuring incredibly rare editions, important historical archives, and unique collections found nowhere else. Browse these listings and begin your literary journey through some of L.A.’s best libraries.

Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens is home to the largest private library in the nation, having surpassed Harvard University in 2010. The Library’s collection of rare books, manuscripts, prints, photographs, maps, and other materials in the fields of British and American history and literature totals more than six million items. Only a tiny portion of this number is on display at any one time.

Following a 17-month renovation, The Huntington re-opened its Main Exhibition Hall in November 2013 with a new permanent exhibition, Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times: Highlights from the Huntington Library. The new exhibit highlights about 150 objects from the library’s collection, and is organized around 12 key objects, each anchoring a section. Major items on display include the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Gutenberg Bible (one of only 14 in the world), Shake­speare’s First Folio, John James Audubon’s Birds of America, and Henry David Thoreau’s manuscript of Walden. Renovations to the Exhibition Hall itself - a space that first opened in 1920 - provide a spectacular setting for the treasures while reflecting the building’s historic past. 

Los Angeles Central Library

Rotunda at the Central Library in Downtown L.A.
Rotunda at the Central Library | Photo courtesy of Candice Montgomery, Flickr

The Richard Riordan Central Library complex is the third largest public library in the United States in terms of book and periodical holdings. Renamed in 2001 for former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, the Central Library is located in Downtown L.A. in the historic 1926 Goodhue Building, which is a designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Central Library’s Rare Books Department has over 16,000 volumes, dating from the 15th century, with a majority from the 18th and 19th centuries. Core collections include California History, Mexicana, Pacific Voyages, Costumes and more. The Central Library also houses and archives the extensive Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection of over 3 million historic photographs. Many images can be viewed by the public via the online photo collection.

The Central Library also hosts [ALOUD], a popular series of free panels and conversations that brings together today’s brightest cultural, scientific, and political luminaries with the curious minds of Los Angeles. For more info and a schedule of upcoming events, visit the [ALOUD] page. 

Doheny Library and Hoose Library at USC

Hoose Library at USC | Photo courtesy of johnxlibris, Flickr

The Doheny Memorial Library at the University of Southern California (USC) opened in 1932. Located in the center of campus and created as a memorial to Edward L. Doheny Jr. (a USC trustee and alumnus), this landmark building was USC's first freestanding library. The Special Collections numbers 130,000 volumes and includes the American Literature Collection, Cinema Collection, maps, World War II posters and an oral history collection. Also located at USC is Hoose Library, regarded as one of the finest philosophy libraries in the world. Its collection and resources comprise more than 50,000 volumes, with a particularly rich survey of the intellectual history of Western civilization. Hoose Library is housed in the Mudd Hall of Philosophy, a Tuscan-style building with a bell tower that film buffs will recognize as the Notre Dame Cathedral in the 1923 silent movie version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney. 

Powell Library at UCLA

Free concert in the Rotunda of Powell Library at UCLA | Photo courtesy of UCLA Powell Library, Facebook

The Powell Library Building houses the College Library, the main undergraduate library on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Constructed from 1926 to 1929, Powell Library was one of UCLA’s original four buildings. Like Royce Hall across the quad, the building's exterior is modeled after the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan. The College Library provides instructional and supplementary materials including classics, standard works, and textbooks needed by undergraduates in the humanities, the social sciences, and the sciences. Its collection of books and periodicals is specifically designed to meet their study needs. The UCLA library system is among the top 10 academic research libraries in North America and has in its collection over eight million books and 70,000 serials. Exhibits, concerts, and historical dances are held in the Rotunda throughout the year. A schedule of upcoming events is available online. 

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum

Air Force One Pavilion at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Air Force One Pavilion at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library | Photo courtesy of Derek Cross, Flickr

Perched atop a hill in Simi Valley with sweeping views of the southland, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is one of L.A.'s most beautiful and unique destinations. As a Presidential Library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Reagan Library, under the authority of the Presidential Records Act, is the repository of presidential records for President Reagan's administration. The Library’s holdings include over 60 million pages of documents, over 1.6 million photographs, a half million feet of motion picture film, tens of thousands of audio and video tape, and over 40,000 artifacts. The Reagan Library also houses Air Force One, a replica of the Oval Office, a section of the Berlin Wall, and much more.

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