There’s an inherent beauty in libraries. When you’re young, libraries are a place of wonder. Trips to these spaces were interludes which you’d leave in awe. While in the library, you could have anything you desired.

When entering higher education, it’s easy to lose that appreciation — but for certain users of the social media application TikTok, an emerging ‘dark academia’ aesthetic has revived their love for the once curiosity-inducing spaces.

Described by The New York Times as “a subculture with a heavy emphasis on reading, writing, [and] learning,” dark academia is best described as a gothic and academic blend. Devoted to all things scholarly, its followers’ aim is to transform dark academia from a trend to a functional lifestyle.

As an avid book lover and an individual drawn to dark academia, it is no surprise that I’m drawn to U of T’s lesser-known libraries. For me, libraries have always been the perfect place to be productive; however, historical libraries add the additional quality of architectural uniqueness. Witnessing these spaces urged me to consider how remarkable it is that U of T has preserved them for decades and centuries.

Fellow dark academia fanatics are probably already familiar with U of T’s John P. Robarts Library. Pre-pandemic, it’s been our unfailing support, coming in clutch in mastering the study-to-social-life balance however, its architecture doesn’t fit the style the trend promotes. So what do you do when your university’s main space is anything but inspirational? With 44 libraries across U of T’s three campuses, there are alternatives that are both functional and visually appealing.

Emmanuel College Library

Located on the third floor of Emmanuel College, this library includes antique lighting fixtures, high windows, wooden desks, and bookshelves. The vast dome-shaped windows overlook both Victoria College campus and Queen’s Park Crescent, creating the perfect study spot. One January morning, I was reading in Emmanuel College Library and it began to snow, creating an incredibly peaceful scene that I didn’t want to leave. 

Standing in Emmanuel College Library, wondering how to get to the second floor. ALESSIA TENAGLIA/THE VARSITY

One of my first times studying at Emmanuel College Library, right before heading to the last of my first semester classes. It was also one of the first snowfalls of December. ALESSIA TENAGLIA/THE VARSITY

Knox College Library

Knox College Library, also known as Caven Library, has dramatic windows that overlook University College and Front Campus. The stained glass windows cast a glowing light within the space which brightens the room, making it a great place for completing coursework. Since many of my classes were located on that side of campus, I enjoyed spending my time there between classes.

Early morning, trying to explore more of Knox College as a curious first-year student. ALESSIA TENAGLIA/THE VARSITY

The stairs that lead to Caven Library and the windows that overlook Front Campus. ALESSIA TENAGLIA/THE VARSITY

A morning well spent at Caven Library. It was peaceful, quiet, and bright. ALESSIA TENAGLIA/THE VARSITY

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library was established in 1973 and is located within Robarts. This library specializes in rare and important materials, such as manuscript holdings and collections from several authors, including Shakespeare. These rare finds are put on display for faculty, staff, students, and the general public.

With its red carpets, tall columns, and approximately five levels of shelving holding hundreds to thousands of books, it is a must-see for all students. When I participated in my first campus tour, I was stunned by this space because of its towering ceiling.

A fall morning at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library as a first-year student, accepting that I can only visit the archives on display and cannot study here. ALESSIA TENAGLIA/THE VARSITY

If you’re interested in immersing yourself in dark academia-esque spaces, it’s worthwhile to explore these settings. However, these libraries are more than a passing TikTok trend they offer us the chance to explore our campus and be productive during a busy year.