Membership Libraries

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia is one of 16 surviving membership libraries. Some, like the Charleston (est. 1748), New York Society (est. 1754), and Newport (est. 1741) libraries date from the 18th century. The Athenaeum of Philadelphia was established in 1814 as a subscription library, at a time when the free public library system did not exist and collections of books, available for reading or research, were still mostly limited to institutions and schools or colleges. Only a small number of individuals could afford to amass a collection of books. From its beginnings the Athenaeum of Philadelphia emphasized not only its lending collections, but also programs where the members could meet and discuss historical, literary, and cultural topics. In 1847 the Athenaeum moved into its current building, a Renaissance Revival brownstone designed by John Notman.
Active Shareholders of The Athenaeum of Philadelphia have reciprocal privileges at the membership libraries listed below (exceptions are marked with an asterisk). Shareholders may make a maximum of five visits to each library per year. Specific privileges at each library vary, so Shareholders should check the institution’s website for details. Shareholders should present their Athenaeum of Philadelphia library card or a note from The Athenaeum of Philadelphia Executive Director when visiting, but note that the libraries will call us to verify the membership is active.
Eligible members of the institutions listed below are welcome to visit The Athenaeum of Philadelphia. Privileges at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia include use of our members only reading room and lounge, access to the open stacks, and attendance at Athenaeum public programming. If you are planning to visit one of these libraries, please contact our Executive Director, Beth Hessel at or 215-925-2688 so that we can make the appropriate arrangements.
The Library Company of Philadelphia*
(Founded 1731)
1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Redwood Library and Athenaeum
(Founded 1747)
50 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI 02840
The Charleston Library Society
(Founded 1748)
164 King Street, Charleston, SC 29401
The Providence Athenaeum
(Founded 1753)
251 Benefit Street, Providence, RI 02903
The New York Society Library
(Founded 1754)
53 East 79th Street, New York, NY 10075
The Boston Athenaeum
(Founded 1807)
10½ Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02108
The Salem Athenaeum
(Founded 1810)
337 Essex Street, Salem, MA 01970
The Portsmouth Athenaeum
(Founded 1817)
9 Market Square, Portsmouth, NH 03801
The General Society Library of New York City*
(Founded 1820)
20 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036
Mechanics’ Hall Library
(Founded 1820 by the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association)
519 Congress Street, Portland, ME 04101
The Center for Fiction
(Founded 1820 as the Mercantile Library)
15 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217
The Institute Library of New Haven
(Founded 1826)
847 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT 06510
The Mercantile Library of Cincinnati
(Founded 1835)
414 Walnut Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202
The St. Louis Mercantile Library Association*
(Founded 1846)
8001 Natural Bridge Road, St. Louis, Missouri 63121
The Mechanics’ Institute Library of San Francisco
(Founded 1855)
57 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94104
Lanier Library Association
(Founded 1890)
72 Chestnut Street, Tryon, NC 28782
The Athenaeum Music and Arts Library in La Jolla
(Founded 1899)
1008 Wall Street, La Jolla, CA 92037
Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum
(Founded 2014)
1531 Western Ave, Seattle, WA 98101