The George Peabody Library, a literary and architectural treasure
Photos and text by Barbara Haddock Taylor
One of Baltimore’s many architectural treasures is the George Peabody Library at the Peabody Institute of Music in Mount Vernon. Built in 1878, it is now part of the Sheridan Libraries Special Collections of Johns Hopkins University.
The library’s dramatic “stack room” is 5 tiers of ornamental cast iron balconies brimming with books. The monumental space is capped with a huge skylight 61 feet above the floor.
Three hundred thousand volumes on nearly every subject are contained in the library’s universal collection. The collection is non-circulating which means that, while the collection is open to the general public, books can only be read inside the library.
The Rare Books Room contains works such as an 1856 edition of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves Of Grass” and a 1617 edition of Don Quixote. One of the oldest books is a beautifully illustrated 1493 history of the world called “The Nuremberg Chronicle.”
Curator Paul Espinosa, relates that the best part of working at the library is sharing the collection with students and the larger public in more depth. “Putting a first edition of Moby-Dick (1851) in front of students studying the novel, or a first of Darwin’s Origin of the Species (1859) in front of a biology major makes all the difference. In our fast paced and digitally-evolving world those sorts of experiences actually slow things down in a good way and leave room and time for thought — the whole purpose of a library such as this after all.”