Hidden Ann Arbor Gems for the Bookish

From Literati to Hatcher Graduate Library, Ann Arbor is an oasis for bibliophiles.

By Bailey Burke March 22, 2023
Hidden Ann Arbor Gems for the Bookish

Growing up, I was the kid who always carried around a book. I was ready for unexpected waits, my brother’s long sports matches, and everything in between. My love for reading as an adolescent is part of what led me to major in creative writing and literature here at Michigan. My literary habits as a child also formed me into a lifelong bibliophile.

If, like me, you love a good afternoon of reading, look no further! Ann Arbor is the place to be. Keep reading for tips on how to make the most of campus libraries, a list of the best bookstores in town, and my favorite Ann Arbor reading spots.

The Libraries

First things first, as a student at the University of Michigan, you have incredible library access. It’s mind boggling really: There are a whopping 20 libraries in Michigan’s library network, with 11 million volumes — making the University of Michigan Library the eighth largest academic library in North America. And you’ve got access to everything with your UMich login and Mcard. Wild!

Aside from making research for class essays easy, the Michigan libraries have lots of materials that are just fun and interesting to explore in your free time. Some of my favorite collections include:

  • The Clark Library: Located within Hatcher Library (yes, it’s a library within a library), the Clark Library is home to some incredible maps, as well as other government documents.
  • The Bentley Historical Library: Located on North Campus, this library really is a hidden gem. You can make an appointment with their incredible staff to spend hours looking through the personal papers, organizational records, photos, films, maps, books, and newspapers that capture Michigan’s history. My favorite thing they have is their scrapbook collection!
  • The William Clements Library: Nestled right on Central Campus (though you’ve probably walked past it a million times without giving it much thought), this library has one of the most stunning reading rooms in possibly the world. The Clements contains rare books, maps, manuscripts, graphic art, and music. Like the Bentley, you’ve got to make an appointment. I definitely recommend coming here at least once before you graduate.

All of the above collections are typically by appointment only for reading room access. But if you’re just looking for a novel in your favorite genre, you can use the library website to request books from the catalog and then pick them up. I often request books from Hatcher Library or the Shapiro Undergraduate Library (UgLi), and then pick them up on my way to or from class. You can also spend hours wandering through the stacks at Hatcher…just make sure you don’t get lost!

If the Michigan libraries don’t have a book you’re looking for or certain copies are all checked out, I recommend getting an Ann Arbor District Library card. You can use your dorm or off-campus address (as long as you live in the Ann Arbor area), and then you’ll have access to their vast collection of books, ebooks, music, movies, and more. This is how I read contemporary fiction in my free time, and I’ve also gotten a lot of books for literature classes here.

Ann Arbor’s Best Bookstores:

If you like owning all your favorite reads, Ann Arbor has no shortage of bookstores to fill your needs. It’s great to support these local businesses, and these shops are also wonderful places to spend an afternoon.

  • Literati: A visit to Ann Arbor isn’t complete without stopping by Literati. From new releases to classic editions, they’ve got you covered. Literati is three floors of beauty and book-filled bliss. They also have a lovely wall mural outside the shop, in their signature typewriter print. I highly recommend joining their email list to stay up to date on monthly events, including author visits. I went to a George Saunders event this past autumn that was INCREDIBLE!
  • Dawn Treader Book Shop: Perhaps the most convenient used bookstore, this shop is only a block away from the Diag. You never know what you’ll find at Dawn Treader, but its affordable prices will allow you to splurge on a few new books each time you visit. However, it’s not all cheap books. Dawn Treader is also home to various rare and antiquarian books, maps, and prints, which can cost a pretty penny if you’re a collector.  
  • West Side Book Shop: Often less crowded than Dawn Treader, this used book store is a favorite of mine. I can wander through its stacks of used and rare books for hours. Sometimes there is classical music playing in the background, adding to the absolute vibe of this place. They have vast collections of children's books, modern first editions, Michigan history, Americana, travel and exploration, art, architecture, music and photography. The West Side Book Shop also organizes the Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair, a benefit for University of Michigan's Clements Library.
  • Motte & Bailey Booksellers: Another lovely used and rare book shop, with a focus on ancient and medieval history, science fiction and fantasy, books about books, and military history. You can shop in-store (located not far from Kerrytown) or online.

My Favorite Reading Spots:

I mentioned the Ann Arbor District Library earlier, but aside from being a great place to check out hundreds of books for free, it’s also a fantastic study or reading spot. The Downtown Branch is only a few blocks from Central Campus, and it’s easy to find a quiet corner on one of the upper levels. The Ann Arbor District Library also offers loads of free book-themed events throughout the year, which you can check out on their website!

Campus also has a plethora of reading spots. Any of the campus libraries are great (aside from during exam season, when they tend to be more crowded in the afternoon and evenings). However, I also love the LSA Building, right by the Union. They’ve got a bunch of seating on the bottom level, while the upper floors have quiet lounges with comfy chairs and couches. The LSA Building also has lovely windows that look out over campus and let in loads of natural light.

Lastly, Ann Arbor is home to loads of cute coffee shops that make great places to read! A few of my favorites are: Comet Coffee, a tiny shop in Nickels Arcade that has a European feel; TeaHaus, a tea shop in Kerrytown that has a vast selection of teas and purposely doesn’t have Wi-Fi so that visitors can either talk or read; and The Common Cup, a cozy shop just a few blocks off-campus.

If you love reading, I hope these tips help you make the most of Ann Arbor! It truly is a haven for literature lovers and artists of all kinds. Happy reading!

Exploring the West Side Book Shop
Exploring the West Side Book Shop.


Bailey Burke
Bailey Burke

Bailey Burke is a senior in the College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts, pursuing majors in history and creative writing & literature, with a minor in Spanish. She is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bailey is in the Residential College, where she founded RC Letters Forum. She is also involved in campus ministry with St. Mary Student Parish and the Kateri Institute for Catholic Studies. She studied abroad in winter 2022 in Dublin, Ireland, and is hoping to travel after she graduates. In her free time, you can find Bailey reading, writing letters, and drinking tea.