Best Public Library

St. Louis Public Library Central Library

When completed in 1912, the Central Library gleamed like a jewel downtown. Funded by tycoon Andrew Carnegie and conceived by Cass Gilbert (designer of the U.S. Supreme Court building), the new structure featured stone archways and ceilings harking back to the Renaissance, but also cutting-edge technology like book elevators and an air-washing system. By the mid-aughts, the library had fallen into a shabby state. But in 2010 crews swarmed the building to begin a $70 million restoration. They've put millions of books into storage, gutted the interior, and laid miles of Internet cable. Administrative offices have moved off-site for good, freeing up space for new reading rooms (including wings devoted to genealogy and St. Louis history). An auditorium now sits where the coal bins and boiler used to be. Even the brass chandeliers and sturdy oak tables of the Grand Hall are getting a touch-up. Slabs of granite from Maine's Mount Waldo have been hauled in to replace the front steps that also originated there. The north edifice will have its own entrance on Locust Street, plus windows revealing activity all the way up to the top floor. This November, when the books are re-shelved and the whole space blanketed with WiFi, our Central Library will be reborn to its former glory — a cathedral of knowledge, a hive of inquiry, a beacon of light in the darkness.

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