Before electricity was common, buildings were designed to maximize the benefits of natural light. Sometimes those spaces got pretty spectacular. The Cincinnati Public Library is a great example; the central atrium is surrounded by stacks of books, accessible by spiral staircases.
Completed in 1874 and designed by architect J.W. McLaughlin, the building was considered the “the most magnificent public library in the country”. The heads of Shakespeare, Milton and Franklin stood guard over the Main Entrance.... he building’s feature was it’s third section, with a 4-story atrium (as seen in this photograph) with five levels of cast iron alcoves, which could hold an enormous quantity of books. This Circulation area was the main part of the library. It was topped by a skylight and also had many library workrooms. The entire floor of the library was covered with a checker board marble floor.
The giant skylight of a ceiling would have filled the place with light, making the finding and reading of a book possible without the need of electric light.
It even got the Buzzfeed treatment, see 15 Gorgeous Photos Of The Old Cincinnati Library