Nashville’s Best Hidden Attraction: The Downtown Public Library

An Attraction Story

The Nashville Public Library is like so many other libraries around the world: it’s stuffed full of books, conference rooms, and study desks. But one thing that makes the Downtown Public Library a real page turner is the building itself. It’s one of the most gorgeous public buildings in Nashville and turns out to be a pretty cool place just to hang out for awhile and, you know, read a book. 

I’m trying to remember now I first realized a desire to visit a library while exploring Nashville. I’m pretty sure it was a search on Instagram where I saw a photo of a sculpture built like a stack of books. I thought it was pretty cool and wanted to find it myself; that led me to the downtown location of the library.


TOP: Grand staircase leading to the second floor. Can you believe this place is a library? BOTTOM: Skylights and large windows allow lots of daylight to flood the library for a natural feel.

When I first explained to the lady behind the circulation desk that I was a travel writer and photographer I figured she would stare at me with a puzzled expression or try to direct me to someone’s office to seek permission to be there. Instead she pulled out a floor plan of the building and circled all the places I just had to visit. Apparently it’s a pretty common thing for visitors from out of town to come to the library. Probably has something to do with people like me writing stories like this.

The building is a gorgeous piece of architecture that blends a classical style with modern amenities. Wide staircases ascend through towering foyers and the main lobby is a cavernous room with a second-story gallery. Hefty wooden doors, brass railings, and cast iron details add to the beauty of the building. Skylights and large windows allow light to flood into the building making it feel natural and comfortable.


TOP: Can you see why the Robinson Courtyard was my favorite spot in the library? BOTTOM: The Scholar by Ken Rowe, my favorite sculpture at the library.

The Robinson Courtyard was my favorite place inside the building. This open air courtyard at the center of the building offers a limited view of the towering high rises in Downtown Nashville while sitting comfortably at a table or bench. Those tables have umbrellas to keep the mid-day sun off your head and the gurgling water fountain in the center adds to the tranquility of the courtyard. Along one edge of the inner courtyard I found a stone bench under the shade of a tree and pulled a book out of my camera bag (I always keep a book in my bag just in case).

The library could almost, but not quite, but mistaken for an art gallery. Seems like every hallway and room, including the vast courtyard, features a piece of artwork or a sculpture. My favorite was The Scholar by Ken Rowe located in the courtyard.


TOP: There were lots of conference rooms, study halls, and plenty of room for people. BOTTOM: There were many chairs in the library but this chair was my chair.

Of all the bad timing I had visited Nashville during an intense heat wave across the South. The mercury in the gauges pushed over 100 each day I was in town. Sitting outside wasn’t comfortable for very long, even in the shade of a tree, but fortunately the massive library has plenty of comfortable places inside. I found a comfortable chair down one row of books and enjoyed the cool air conditioning for awhile before finally leaving.

That tower of books is called La Storia della Terra (The Story of the Earth). I never did find it, although I think I saw it through a window. It’s not like I need an excuse to come back here again someday, but I’m glad I have one. I never would have thought to add the public library to any list of things to do at a particular destination, but the Nashville Public Library’s downtown branch is a must-see for anyone visiting the Music City.

  • Love a good library Jason! Especially when the mercury hits triple digits outside 😉 Air conditioning, a good read and comfortable surroundings. Nashville’s looks epic; a blast from the past. Not unlike the many old skool buildings I see in NYC. So well preserved!

    Ryan

  • Thanks, Jason. Really it is a beautiful library. I have enjoyed your information. Awesome