Visitors to the Library often comment on its peaceful atmosphere, a studious calm which is evoked by the architectural style. It has been variously described as 'basilican', 'like a French Gothic cathedral' and 'uplifting'. Certainly it has a number of ecclesiastical features: the barrel vaulted roof with arcading on the upper galleries, and a clerestory at the very top which brings more natural light into the centre of the building and (on this level) gives glimpses of the mature trees which surround it. However, the most striking feature is the central staircase, in two sections, the higher one made deliberately narrower and steeper to create a trompe l'oeil effect of height. It clearly has symbolic overtones of a stairway to knowledge.
The materials of the Library are fair-faced white bricks and bush-hammered concrete. There is a contrast in texture between these rough surfaces and the smooth concrete pillars and stairways, polished to give the effect of marble. Black tables and dark grey chairs provide a contrast in tone to the prevailing whiteness. All the woodwork is in iroko.
From the outside the Library has a massive presence. In cross-section the vault, on its flat base, has a striking silhouette, and seems to hang in space. When one looks more closely it is still intriguing, because the clerestory appears to support the weight of the pre-cast roof. On both long walls of the building, picture windows alternate with blank-faced bays, and at night, in Fountain Court, the articulation of recesses and projecting bays is emphasised by floodlighting. The recesses are in deep shadow, but are lit from within by the table lights, so that one can see girls studying by the windows on two levels.