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Notes from the Archives: The Gospel According to Saint Mark

Among the Athenaeum’s collections of books and objects is a rare artifact of disability history: a copy of The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Checklist Amer. imprints 17773). This book was printed in 1833 at the Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind here in Philadelphia (now called the Overbrook School) for the use of the school’s pupils, and it has the distinction of being the first book published in the US for reading by touch. With its letters raised ever so slightly off the page, The Gospel According to Saint Mark stands at the beginning of a long tradition of American-made books that aimed to make the printed word more accessible to blind and low-vision readers.

To understand this book’s importance, it helps to know a bit about the history of tactile books (that is, books made specifically for reading by touch). The first tactile book was printed in Paris in 1786, and the first tactile book in English was printed in Edinburgh in 1827. The Athenaeum’s copy of The Gospel According to Saint Mark shares many characteristics with these early examples of raised-letter printing: its pages are thick (almost like sheets of cardboard) and the spacing between lines and letters is generous. It also features a type system consisting of letters like those used for sighted reading (commentators of the time called this an “alphabetical” type system). Though Louis Braille had already introduced the dot code that bears his name by 1829, four years before this book was published, braille would not become popular in American tactile bookmaking for another 50 years. Instead, The Gospel According to Saint Mark sports characters in an italic style that can be read by sight as well as by touch.

How did this book, one of only forty copies printed, become part of the Athenaeum’s collections? The simple answer is that it was donated to the Athenaeum by its printer, a secretary at the Pennsylvania Institution named Jacob Snider Jr. A dedication signed by Snider (he calls himself the book’s “inventor and maker”) appears on the front flyleaf and commemorates the gift of the book on January 1st , 1838, over four years after its publication. It’s unclear why Snider chose to donate the book at this later date. He gave a similarly inscribed copy to the Library Company of Philadelphia on the same day, and this fact, together with his self-attribution as “inventor and maker,” suggests that Snider aimed to promote this new technology of literacy and his work on behalf of blind readers among Philadelphia’s key book repositories. The Athenaeum does have a special connection with The Gospel According to Saint Mark, however; Nathan Dunn and Edward Coleman, the two men credited by Snider with funding the book’s production, were shareholders of Athenaeum at the time of its donation.

Ultimately, The Gospel According to Saint Mark is a remarkable textual object that can teach us about the history of visual disability in the nineteenth century as well as Philadelphia’s rich culture of bookmaking and collection.

Written by: Taylor Hare | Researcher


Image #1: The title page of the Athenaeum’s copy of The Gospel According to Saint Mark, which features a short discussion of the book’s origins at the Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind.

Image #2: A handwritten inscription by Jacob Snider Jr. on the from flyleaf of the Athenaeum’s copy. The inscription commemorates the gift of the book to the Athenaeum on January 1st, 1838.

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"Best seat for … getting work done!"

Did you hear? Philly Magazine says we're the "Best seat for … getting work done!"

"The second floor of the reading room at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia — a landmark and library — is accessible with a $15 day pass and outfitted with plenty of seating. And the Italianate architecture is like nothing you’ll see at your go-to coffee shop."

Thank you, Philly Mag! Read the full list here:


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'Pemi's Book Picks!

Here are a few of my favorite novels from the Athenaeum’s collection. You can find them on display (alongside Leigh and Alexa’s picks!) in the Member Lounge.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

After a disturbing dream, a woman abruptly turns vegetarian to the surprise and consternation of her family. Her quiet insistence evolves into rebellion, a defiant disobedience of Seoul society rules. Told from three points of view, this strange and disturbing short book is one I return to often.

Sula by Toni Morrison

There are many Morrison books to love. I return to Sula for the daring disruption of the woman at its center, for the heartbreak of friendships, for the questions around individuality and belonging. I return to Sula because nearly every sentence is impossibly perfect.

The Beginners by Anne Serre

The synopsis of this (very French) book is deceptively simple: A happily married woman falls in love with another man. All simplicity ends there. This slippery philosophical novel thinks about love, infatuation, about emotional wounds, about the unknowingness of self, and others. Don’t come to this for plot, come for the wondrous mind-tickling experience.

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

Fun fact: The original title (Spanish) is translated to ‘Rescue Distance,’ referring to the “variable safe distance” between a mother and child. If you’re looking for a hallucinatory ecological psychological thrill that will fill you with dread, and awe of the writer’s command, then this very short book is for you. So tense, I read it in one sitting!

Monstrilio by Gerardo Sámano Córdova

A grieving mother takes a slice of her dead son’s lung and feeds it in a jar. A sentient and carnivorous Monstrilio is born. Despite its seemingly horrific conceit, this is a very tender novel rooted in family, asking questions about the boundaries of love. Come for the delicious prose, stay for delightful (and sometimes scary) Monstrilio! This is also a great queer pick to kick off Pride Month!

'Pemi Aguda, Front Desk & Member Assistant

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Notes from the Archives: Making Tremendous Strides (Update!)

As of Tuesday, June 18th, our Drexel co-op Erin White, now joined by our new Associate Archivist & Librarian Brice Peterson, have completed a survey of 325 drawers and 23 boxes in our vault... for a grand total of 4,436 items!

This progress is remarkable, and each documented drawing, photograph, rendering, or catalog brings wider access and understanding to The Athenaeum's treasure trove of collections.  Thank you Erin and Brice!

- -

Kristina Wilson, Curator of Architecture

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Pearson Diary

The Athenaeum was recently gifted a donation from the late George H. Pearson, who was a fellow shareholder here. Included in this collection is a manuscript diary from his relative, Isaac Lobdell Pearson, who was a Gentleman born in 1783 and died in approximately 1864. The dates for this journal are from 1798 to Dec 20, 1861. Throughout this journal, we hear stories of his personal endeavors, such as travel and cleaning recipes and instructions, and the societal changes and events that are taking place at that time.

“The Fever”

From the very beginning, this diary touches on how he and his family would have to travel away from their home in Warrington, Bucks Co, PA, at months on end due to the outbreak of Yellow Fever. In a specific entry, Isaac wrote that he “left the city Aug 27, 1797 and returned October 27, on account of the Fever.” There are many more like this throughout the diary.

Carpentry and Woodworking

Isaac provides a multitude of ways to clean, woodwork, build, and more. He provides a detailed entry on how to create Artificial Mahogany, which involves rubbing wood with a solution of nitrous acid, Dragon’s blood, wine, carbonate of soda, and mix them all together and brush the wood inn order to get it tinted to the external appearance of mahogany. Additionally, he added newspaper clippings of other industrial tasks, such as the crystallization of tin. This
article also dives into the history behind it, the process of crystallizing the tin, and the benefits behind it.


Every few entries, sometimes even more redundant, are entries that discuss those that died. He further elaborated on the time of death, their exact age to the day and minute, and depending on the person, the location of the burial. The two deaths that I found the most significant were the death of his wife and George Washington. When George Washington died, Isaac was around the age of sixteen. He specifically wrote how on Saturday, Dec 14, 1799, George Washington was seated in the Virginia General when he suddenly died. Isaac wrote that he was the Commander in Chief of the Armies of the United States, that he was “mature in years” and that he “served with glory in the affection of the American people.” Many years later, Isaac married his wife, Abigail Cooper Pearson, in 1820 and had a child, Charles L. Pearson in 1816. In his entry relating to her passing, he wrote that his beloved wife died on July 29, 1857 at the age of 66 years, 3 months, and 0 days.


Erin White

Archival and Digital Imaging Assistant

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Notes from the Archives: George Pearson Gift

On Wednesday, May 29th, The Athenaeum acquired a gift from the estate of George Pearson, an architect and Athenaeum shareholder since 1994. Curator Kristina Wilson drove to Penningon, NJ to retrieve the items - a pair of portraits depicting Isaac Pearson and his wife Elizabeth Lobdell Pearson, an 18th c. bracket clock, and Pearson's 18th c. diary (Isaac Pearson was an interesting Revolutionary War figure, whom you can read about here:

The portraits are in excellent condition as is clock, which is inscribed with the date 8-24-1766.  Keep an eye on the mantle in the Member Lounge in the coming weeks as this new horological acquisition will soon be displayed!  The diary is also in fine condition, and covers topics from Washington's death to the Yellow Fever epidemic to Pearson's own carpentry and woodworking notes.

We're excited to welcome these new additions to The Athenaeum's collections!


Kristina Wilson

Gladys Brooks Curator of Architecture

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The Athenaeum on Fox 29 Live!

Bill Anderson took a tour of Carpenters' Hall, with a stop at The Athenaeum to see our new exhibit, "Constructing Knowledge: 300 Years of the Carpenters' Company of the City & County of Philadelphia!"

Watch the video here: FOX 29 Live: Bill tours Carpenters' Hall

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Leigh's Book Picks!

Here are a few of my favorite novels from the Athenaeum’s collection. You can find them on display (alongside 'Pemi and Alexa’s picks!) in the Member Lounge. 

Tessa Hadley, The Past 

I read Hadley for the psychological acuity of her characters, who feel as real and sympathetic as living people. For fans of Alice Munro, Elizabeth Bowen, and dilapidated English country homes! 

Patricia Lockwood, No One is Talking About This

I can’t think of a more distinctive, hilarious, or intelligent voice in contemporary literature. Lockwood, who also writes poetry, memoir, and criticism for the London Review of Books, deploys her wry worldview to show us the ways technology has altered (or warped?) our brains and realities. 

Jhumpa Lahiri, Whereabouts

Set in contemporary Rome, Whereabouts is a spare, intimate novel about solitude and the passage of time. As a fan of Lahiri’s earlier books, I was fascinated by the radical stylistic shift she undertakes in this project, which must be due, in part, to the author’s decision to write the novel in Italian, then translate it into English herself. 

Rachel Kushner, The Mars Room 

Entertaining, illuminating, and empathetic, The Mars Room is set between a fictional California womens’ prison and the underbelly of 1980s San Francisco. In interviews, Kushner, who’s also a prison reform activist, is explicit in thanking the incarcerated women who shared their stories with her over the years in a process she doesn’t think of as “research,” but rather as “bearing witness” to the criminal justice system. 

Susan Choi, Trust Exercise

Choi’s acrobatic sentences, full of singular verbiage and insight, leave no perception or feeling unturned. Just as impressive is her handling of plot. Trust Exercise is the narrative equivalent of a Russian nesting doll. For fans of Don Delillo, Vladimir Nabokov, and the film Theater Camp. 

Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry

I was so impressed by Halliday’s first novel, which establishes her as a virtuoso as well as a ventriloquist. While distinctly different in tone and point of view character, each of the book’s three sections interlock in a fascinating study of what it means to tell a story, whether one’s own or that of a perfect stranger. 

 --Leigh Gallagher, Front Desk & Member Assistant

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Alexa's Book Picks!

These are my favorites in The Athenaeum's circulating collection:

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids is my favorite book and the only book that I've ever read twice. Patti's loving descriptions of her ever-evolving relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe tie together this coming-of-age story set in New York City. Throughout the book, I can't help but admire her manifestation of becoming a successful artist.

Stay True by Hua Hsu

In this memoir, Hua Hsu writes about his relationship with a college friend during the 90s. His friend's life was tragically cut short, and Hsu reflects on their brief friendship and the grief that followed.

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

I think that Tom Lake is a perfect summer book. The story follows a mother as she tells her daughters the story of a past romance during her time as an actress at a summer stock theater with a now famous actor. Set in northern-Michigan on a cherry farm, this book made me want to live out my cottagecore dreams.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

I read Convenience Store Woman recently when I was in need of a book snack (thank you, Jill, for creating the genre). The story follows a woman who is in her 30s and has been working at a convenience store in Japan for the better part of a decade, with no intentions of leaving her job. Her family and friends judge her for not wanting to better her career or find a spouse. I enjoyed reading about a character that just wanted to do her own thing, no matter the societal pressures of modern life.

Hold Still by Sally Mann

Sally Mann is one of my favorite photographers of all time. The images that inspire me the most are from her series Deep South. This memoir follows her life making images and upbringing in the South. It was interesting to learn about how her environment shapes the images that she produces. This memoir is available as an audiobook through CloudLibrary.


Alexa Perillo, Development & Membership Associate

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"Current" Events!

This comic was discovered within the serial publication "Current News" by the Philadelphia Electric Company. Intern Liz Lyons was searching through some of our volumes for architectural photos and drawings when she stumbled upon this, and we decided that it had to be shared! While there were a few one-panel comics scattered throughout the publications, this one is a full spread on a folded page, depicting noteworthy events from a company baseball game.

Liz found the relatively unstructured, sketchbook-esque layout of each drawing delightful and pleasantly casual, which would likely appeal to the intended audience of current (ha!) and former employees of the company. The cartoonist's teasing commentary on the antics of the participants is also entertaining, especially when coupled with some of the more dynamic illustrations.

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Notes from The Archives: Making Tremendous Strides!

In order for an archive to be functional and accessible, it is imperative that the archivist have intellectual and physical control of its contents.  Intellectual control means that discrete collections are organized in a considered way to facilitate access, while physical control simply means that the archivist knows where to find things!  The gathering of this information is called a survey, and, while the process is often a long and involved, it is an essential task for any archivist in order to understand, and more importantly, to share, their collection.

Over the past several weeks, two stalwarts have been down in The Athenaeum’s vault conducting such a survey.  Erin White, our Drexel co-op, and Kate Greenberg, a volunteer and recent MLIS graduate from Rutgers, have been steadily working their way through the contents of the flat files (in which the architectural drawings are stored) in order to create a comprehensive shelf list.  Their first step was a broad overview, accomplished by going through each file drawer and listing, via a note taped to the front, which architect, firm, or building was found therein.  They also identified all of the empty drawers, and important step as it helps determine how much onsite storage we have available to continue to grow the collection!

The first step completed, Erin and Kate have moved on to the second, and more involved portion of the survey.  They are going through each drawer and collecting all the relevant metadata, creating a comprehensive spreadsheet.  The information collected includes location (cabinet and drawer number), accession number, folder number, architect name and/or architectural firm, building/project name, client name, building location, date, and number of sheets per folder.  This data, while useful in spreadsheet form, will ultimately be migrated into The Athenaeum’s new archival software, ArchivesSpace.  Once fully implemented, this information management system will serve as the master database for the entirety of the Athenaeum’s collections, both architectural and institutional (though PAB will continue to exist and be updated as an independent resource in conjunction with AS).

I am so thrilled and excited about the work that Erin and Kate are doing so well and so quickly.  As of May 7th, they have documented 2,290 folders in 200 drawers! The foundational information they are gathering will not only serve to make the collection more accessible, but will foster its continued growth as it serves the community in Philadelphia and beyond.  Thank you, Erin and Kate!


Kristina Wilson

Gladys Brooks Curator of Architecture

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Notes from the Archives: The Philadelphia Streets Department Photo Collection

MeiXing Hunt-Babcock, a photography student at Drexel University's Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, is currently interning at The Athenaeum as our Archival and Digital Imaging Assistant. One ongoing project she's been focused on is the digitization of the Philadelphia Streets Department Photo Collection.

Comprised of about 5,000 8x10 black and white photos and lantern slides illustrating a variety of Streets Department projects (bulk dates 1930-1955), most are paired progress photos showing "before and after" street work. The collection is arranged by the Streets Department number, which is represented in the Athenaeum call numbers that begin "303-P-____"."

In the course of digitizing this extensive collection, MeiXing not only notes images that may complement other holdings at The Athenaeum, but those of interest to her personally. About one such image, call number 303-P-2221, MeiXing writes:

“As interesting as watching the majority of the images turn from a cobbled-street “befores” to fresh-pavement “afters”, I've found that my favorite images are the scenes that reveal their historical context and offer a true glimpse into the past. Among my own bookmarked saves of iconic fashions and hand painted street signs, I found this image to be the most humorous and perhaps most revealing of the changes that have happened in our city since... and also the image to bring the most laughs around the office so far!”

The Athenaeum is so grateful to MeiXing for her wonderful work and the energy and creativity she brings to each project, and a big thanks for what is hopefully just the first of her contributions to Notes from the Archives!

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Literary Award Winners Announced at the 209th Annual Meeting of Shareholders

On April 15, The Athenaeum Board and Staff welcomed all Shareholders to the 209th Annual Meeting. It was a marvellous time!

The program included: the year in review, a look ahead and the announcement of the 2023 Literary Award Winners. Join us to congratulate David Amadio, author of Rug Man, winner in the fiction category, and David S. Barnes whose book, Lazaretto: How Philadelphia Used an Unpopular Quarantine Based on Disputed Science to Accommodate Immigrants and Prevent Epidemics, won in the nonfiction category!

These books, and all the finalists, deserve to be read! They're available to borrow from the Athenaeum shelves.

Watch the annual meeting here:  The 209th Annual Meeting of Shareholders - YouTube

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"Notes From the Archives" with Kristina Wilson

I am six weeks into my role as the Curator of Architecture at the Athenaeum, and the learning curve has been steep - and exceedingly fun!  I am grateful to those here and in the wider community for their guidance - and patience - as I settle in.  And for all those unstintingly sharing their knowledge on architecture, both in Philadelphia and beyond - thank you!

So what has my first month and a half at the Athenaeum entailed?  Primarily familiarizing myself with this tremendous archive, a near daily task thanks to a steady flow of  research requests.  I find myself in the basement vault more often than not, hunting down photographs, architectural drawings, correspondence or trade catalogues, and trying not to fall down any of the hundreds of fascinating rabbit holes that appear just by opening a box or drawer.  The history that resides in this collection is great and varied, so keep an eye out for new posts that tell its stories, as well as insights into the archival profession, in Notes From The Archives!


(Pictured: one of my first finds in the vault.  Prior to The Athenaeum I was the archivist at The Curtis Institute of Music.  During my six years there, I came to admire Curtis's founder, Mary Louise Curtis Bok Zimbalist, and thus curiosity had me seek out materials pertaining to either her home in Merion, PA or her father's home, Lyndon, in Wyncote, PA (her father being Cyrus Curtis, founder of the Curtis Publishing Company). These documents from the Cornell Collection pertain to the demolition of Lyndon and subsequent development of the Curtis Arboretum, which surrounded Lyndon's former music/ballroom, the only portion of the grand home that was left standing.  These documents may not look like much on the surface, but in addition to containing names like Pedersen and Olmsted and offering a snapshot of early 20th c. demolition and building practices, they give, above all, unique insight into how a grieving daughter chose to preserve her father's memory.)

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A Successful First Salon!

"I enjoyed the intimate and casual atmosphere with the former governor, who was a wealth of knowledge," said an attendee of the inaugural meeting of The Salon: Philadelphia: Strengths and Prospects. It held on March 4 in the DuBarry Conference Room at The Athenaeum, and all were pleased with the former governor's presentation.

To attend the next meeting of The Salon on April 1, register here!

Photo: Governor Tom Wolf and Nancy Moses, who moderated the conversation.

Painting by Frances Wolf.


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Introducing Kristina Wilson, the new Gladys Brooks Curator of Architecture

I'm very excited to join the staff at The Athenaeum as the Gladys Brooks Curator of Architecture, and would like to take advantage of the Athenaeum Annals to briefly introduce myself.  An archivist by training (and disposition!), I was most recently at Longwood Gardens, where I served as Archives Manager and, prior to that, as Archivist at The Curtis Institute of Music.

I am a passionate advocate of archival access for all, and believe that historical records retain their relevance and longevity through two means: careful stewardship and active engagement.  My goal for the collections at The Athenaeum, as they continue to grow through careful curation, is that they will become more open, more accessible, and more relatable to Athenaeum members, visitors,  Philadelphia area communities, and beyond. Keep an eye out in the coming months for social media posts, tours, archivally focused events, and exhibits (both in-person and online) as I work to further connect this invaluable collection both locally and around the world.

As a first step, beginning April 1st, I will set aside Tuesday and Thursday afternoons between 1:00-3:00 as open hours when I will be available at my desk in the Busch Room. Please feel free to reach out, whether in person or by phone/email, during that time.

I look forward to meeting and engaging with you!

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Victorian Novels by Female Authors Collection

The Athenaeum recently created a collection of works, both fiction and nonfiction, written by women during the Victorian Era. Many of these items have been in our collection for quite some time, but now they will be grouped together bibliographically, making them more discoverable through the online public access catalog and bringing to light the work of these women. It is our hope that casual readers and researchers alike will be able to benefit from this collection, whether it be by finding new books, learning about these authors, or seeing some of the incredibly elaborate cover designs that were popular at the time.

Cataloging intern Liz Lyons, who is currently completing her Master’s in Library and Information Science at Drexel University, worked on this project as part of her Capstone project. Through this project, she learned not only basic cataloging skills, but also how to document bibliographic information like cover design or publication elements, familiarized herself with common cataloging software, and gained a greater appreciation for the amount of work it takes to keep holdings findable.

“A lot of these books must be stored off-site to make space for new acquisitions that are more relevant to our members,” Liz explains, “so it’s really important that I record any details that a user could conceivably want to know about. What it looks like, any damage or unique features, how long we’ve had it; that’s all information that could be useful to someone. It’s a lot of work, but I think it keeps these books alive and active in our collection, which is exciting.” While initial work on creating the collection is complete, the Athenaeum’s collections hold additional titles that can be added, so keep an eye out!

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Black History Month: A Reading List for Children & Young Adults

To celebrate February as Black History Month, here are some books that young reader in your life might enjoy. All available on the Athenaeum shelves! Don't forget to bring your young ones over to the Athenaeum on Saturday, Feb 3: it's "Take Your Child to the Library" Day!

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Reading Room Vitrines

In 1923 William Butler Yeats became the first Irish author to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of this achievement, we are showing two treasures from our rare book vault. One is The Secret Rose from 1897, with a stunning binding designed by Irish artist Althea Gyles. The second is a 1903 limited edition of The Land of Heart's Desire, signed by the author on the title page. Stop by and take a look the next time you are in the building.

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Thank you and a Fare Thee Well to Bruce Laverty, Gladys Brooks Curator of Architecture

Please join me in sharing gratitude to Bruce Laverty, who completes his forty years of service as The Athenaeum of Philadelphia’s Gladys Brooks Curator of Architecture on Wednesday, November 15, 2023. For forty years, Bruce has emblazoned the path at The Athenaeum, building our physical and digital architecture collections; stewarding a vast reservoir of knowledge about the built environment of Philadelphia and its architects who led national and global innovations in architecture; aiding historians, preservationists, architects, students and the casually curious to plumb the riches of our collections; and serving as a teacher, colleague, and advocate at our local universities and with the city. Bruce is a very modest person and not one to toot his own horn. But as he prepares to leave his post after all of these years to enjoy some new adventures with his wife, Wendy, and family, we all know that his impact on this
organization, the HABS program, and this city is immeasurable.

We have a guest book at our front desk; I invite all of you to leave your words of gratitude for
Bruce in the book or to drop off cards or notes for him.

With gratitude,

Beth Shalom Hessel
Executive Director

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Spooky & Seasonal Reads

Check out the book display in the Reading Room for a selection of seasonal titles from cozy mysteries to spookier thrillers.

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Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals

The Athenaeum provides onsite access to the  Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals from a link on our website. Published by the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University, this database indexes journal articles on architecture and design, covering subjects such as the history and practice of architecture, landscape architecture, city planning, historic preservation, and interior design. To access the Avery Index, just bring your laptop to the Athenaeum. Once you are on the Athenaeum's WiFi you will have access to the index from the research page of our website. Please note that there is no remote access. You must be in the building. If you need assistance searching the index, or do not have a laptop, please make an appointment with Librarian Jill LeMin Lee (

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October is Dyslexia Awareness Month

If traditional print reading is challenging for you, consider trying our cloudLibrary app for eBooks and downloadable audiobooks. Reading eBooks in cloudLibrary permits you to select a different font, including the OpenDyslexic font, that may make reading easier. You may also easily increase the font size. Advanced settings also allow you to alter line height, word spacing, and letter spacing. Another option is to listen to an audiobook, where a talented narrator reads the text. Questions about getting started with cloudLibrary? Contact Resource Description and Access Librarian Lois Reibach (

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In Memoriam: Senator Dianne Feinstein

Today at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, we recognize the death of California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the oldest sitting member of the Senate. Prior to her election to the Senate in 1990, Ms. Feinstein was Mayor of San Francisco for 9 years.

In June, 1984, as news circulated that the slate of potential Vice-Presidential running mates under consideration by Democratic Presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale included Dianne Feinstein and Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode, Mayor Goode hosted 52nd annual conference of the United States Conference of Mayors in Philadelphia. According to a UPI article, the 200 mayors planned to debate "issues on fairness and equity in national policies that affect cities."

This picture from The Athenaeum's archives captures Mayor Feinstein, Mayor Goode and Mrs. Velma Goode at a reception for the U.S. Conference of Mayors held at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia on June 16, 1984. Both knew they were part of history as part of the first field of potential running mates made up of women and Black men, yet their focus was on addressing issues like HIV treatment and violence in cities.

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Booker Prize Longlist

The Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious literary awards for fiction written in the English language. This year's exciting longlist has thirteen titles, and they are already at the Athenaeum. If you have an account in Franklin you may use it to request books that are listed as Available, or email the librarian ( to be placed on the waiting list for titles that are currently circulating to other patrons. Check some out and see if your favorites make the shortlist.

2023 Longlist: 

A Spell of Good Things / Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

Old God's Time / Sebastian Barry

Study for Obedience /  Sarah Bernstein

The House of Doors / Tan Twan Eng

If I Survive You / Jonathan Escoffery

How to Build a Boat / Elaine Feeney

This Other Eden / Paul Harding

Pearl / Siân Hughes

All the Little Bird-Hearts /  Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow

Prophet Song / Paul Lynch

Western Lane / Chetna Maroo

In Ascension /  Martin MacInnes

The Bee Sting / Paul Murray

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From the Vault: Violet Oakley & the Red Rose Girls

One of the Athenaeum’s many hidden treasures are the Violet Oakley resources. Oakley was born in 1874 in Bergen Heights, New Jersey. Her family was filled with artists, who encouraged and helped her career as an artist to thrive. She is most well-known for her murals, stained glass, and portraiture.

Around the 1910s, Oakley moved into the Red Rose Inn in the Philadelphia suburbs with fellow artist friends Jessie Wilcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Henrietta Cozens. Drexel professor and illustrator Howard Pyle dubbed the group the “Red Rose Girls” after the inn. After working with Oakley at PAFA, eventually Edith Emerson was indoctrinated into the group. They essentially created their own women’s artist-colony in the early 1900s.

Some of Oakley’s career highlights include a mural of William Penn’s history in the Pennsylvania State Capitol building, which made her the first woman artist to receive a commission from a capitol building. She was also commissioned from the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown to create a mural of great women of the bible. In addition to these murals, Oakleys work lives on in the seals and logos of Germantown Friends School, Sarah Lawrence College, and the Plastic Club.

The Athenaeum is lucky enough to have several Violet Oakley contributions. In our boardroom, you can find a charcoal portrait of former board member Charles Wharton Stork done by Oakley in 1943. Stork was a successful 20th century poet and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He founded the Athenaeum Literary Award in 1950 as well as being the namesake for the Charles Wharton Stork Memorial Lecture program. The Stork family donated the portrait after Charles’ death in 1971. His portrait is visibly different from the rest of the pieces hung in the boardroom. Oakley has a unique style of portraiture in general, but this specific portrait is untraditional in its unkempt and sketchy appearance. She used both red and black charcoal, being sure to emphasize Stork’s expression and appearance more than the background.

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Winner Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Award 2023

Preservation Pennsylvania shared with us this week that The Athenaeum of Philadelphia has been selected to receive a Leadership Award for Stewardship at the 2023 Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Awards on October 19, 2023.  The Leadership Award is given for exceptional stewardship efforts by an individual or group on behalf of a significant historic resource. The Athenaeum receives this recognition for the tremendous work restoring the exterior of our 1847 National Historic Landmark building last year.

We are thrilled for this honor. Earlier this year, the Preservation Alliance recognized our restoration efforts with 2023 Grand Jury Award. The Athenaeum thanks the many artisans and specialists who handled our restoration work under the leadership of Kreilick Conservation, LLC.

As soon as Preservation PA announces ticket sales for the October 19th ceremony at the State Museum in Harrisburg, The Athenaeum will provide an opportunity to you to join us in Harrisburg for the event and a special tour of the State museum.

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Rear Entrance Open

You may notice our back entrance has a new contraption over it...Due to the construction next door, temporary scaffolding has been erected over our rear entrance. This is to protect you and us from any debris. There are also additional lights to make sure your way is still lit. If you have any issues trying to get in the back door, just call!

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Currently Highlighted on a Display Rack

The Athenaeum has a small but growing Graphic Works Collection, consisting of graphic novels and memoirs for both adults and youth readers. This exciting visual format has seen an upsurge in readers in the United States in the past few years. Some examples are currently highlighted on a display rack in the reading room, but they will be moving into dedicated shelves in an alcove in the near future. You may search the existing offerings in the online catalog using this link. Shareholder level members have access to additional graphic novels from the collections of the University of Pennsylvania A few recent acquisitions are included in our online new book list. As we develop our collection, let the librarian ( know if there are titles that you would like to see. Stay tuned for more developments in this exciting new addition to the Athenaeum!

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Reading Room Vitrines

Next time you are visiting the Reading Room peek into our vitrines for a glimpse at a bygone era of travel with examples of 19th century railroad excursion booklets from the Rupp Transportation Collection.

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Meet Me At The Automat

In the Lower Level Gallery, stop by our pop-up Automat exhibit! On display are photographs, drawings, advertisements and more of the Horn & Hardart Automat. The first Automat opened in Philadelphia on June 9, 1902 at 820 Chestnut Street. Over the next nearly 90 years, they would expand across the city and up to New York City. A beloved institution of generations, the last Automat closed in New York in April of 1991.

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Decolonize Your Bookshelf

Looking for something classic to read from a voice outside of the often white and male-dominated Western literary canon? Check out one of the selections from This is the Canon: Decolonize Your Bookshelf in 50 Books. With additional entries to complement each featured title, this book is an excellent guide to diversifying your reading list. Whether you’re interested in novellas, books in translation, or short story compilations, there is something for everyone. Come to the Reading Room and check out our display!

We are working to make even more titles available in our print and digital collections or through our partnership with The University of Pennsylvania. Check out the Franklin catalog or look on cloudLibrary to see what’s available from This is the Canon.

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June is Audiobook Appreciation Month

Did you know that Athenaeum members at all levels have access to a collection of over 18,500 downloadable audiobooks through the cloudLibrary app? Audiobooks allow you to listen to a book rather than read it. Some titles are read by their authors, others are performed by actors or experienced narrators. Why listen rather than read? Audiobooks are great for the visually impaired, tired eyes, or those who just want variety. A talented narrator can add to the experience of a book with the rhythm of dialog, or their pronunciation of foreign names. Resource Description and Access Librarian Lois Reibach enjoys listening to audiobooks while in her car or on days she goes to the eye doctor.

When using cloudLibrary the app bookmarks your place in an audiobook, so you pick up right where you left off, even if you had to return the audiobook and check it out again at a later date. When searching in the cloudLibrary app Audiobooks are designated by a small set of headphones in the upper right corner of the book cover image. You can limit your search to only audiobooks using the funnel icon at the top right of the app. Click on it and you will have the ability to limit your search by format (eBook or Audiobook). Don’t forget to save your choice! Audiobooks borrowed through cloudLibrary have an initial lending period of three weeks and may be renewed if not requested by another patron. The cloudLibrary app is free with your membership and should be available to download wherever you normally get apps for your device (such as the App Store or the Google Play Store). Curious about downloadable audiobooks but don’t know where to start? Schedule an in-person or phone appointment with Lois (lreibach@ The Athenaeum also has a collection of audiobooks on CD. You may search these holdings online using this link. Contact Librarian Jill LeMin Lee ( to borrow an audiobook on CD.

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New in the Library: All Things Birds!

Looking for a new hobby this spring? Why not try birdwatching!

In the Members' Lounge, you'll find a shelf dedicated to all things birds. Bird guides from David Sibley and Cornell Ornithology, ideas for hikes in the area, and best of all, a pair of binoculars that members can check out, just like they would a book!

Philadelphia has a number of great birdwatching spots. Whether you take the binoculars across the street to Washington Square Park, or further afield to John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, you're bound to find some interesting friends of the feather variety. And if you do go birdwatching, we WILL ask you about it, so come back prepared to tell us what you found!


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The Athenaeum Celebrates 74th Year of Literary Awards with 2022 Recipients

Philadelphia Inquirer journalist Will Bunch won the prestigious Athenaeum of Philadelphia 2022 Literary Award. The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, among the nation’s oldest membership libraries, announced the recipients of its 74-year-old Literary Award at its 208th Annual Shareholder Meeting on April 17.

The Literary Award honors books published in the calendar year of outstanding merit by Philadelphia area authors or that focus on the city of Philadelphia. Winners are chosen by a panel of Athenaeum shareholders who serve voluntarily, reading scores of books and meeting regularly to deliberate. The committee evaluates each book on its literary quality and accessibility, whether it offers a fresh point of view and its distinct capacity to invite conversation about our city and our world.

In his acceptance speech, Bunch said, “I am honored, humbled, and grateful to the selection committee to join the list of remarkable Philadelphians who’ve won this award in the past. It’s especially gratifying because what I was trying to promote in After the Ivory Tower Falls – an America that embraces liberal education and critical thinking – is exactly what the Athenaeum of Philadelphia has been doing every day for 209 years.

The literary award comes with a $1,000 cash prize. The recipient is invited to speak at a public lecture at The Athenaeum with a reception. Bunch’s lecture is scheduled for September 14, 2023.

The short-listed books this year included After the Ivory Tower Falls; Fellowship Point, by Alice Elliott Dark; Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet: The Founder’s Divisive Death, Enduring Afterlife, and Blueprint for American Prosperity, by Michael Meyer; and Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, The Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire, by Jonathan Katz.

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Athenaeum Awards Art & Architecture Book Award to John Lobell and Laura Wolf-Powers

John Lobell, author of The Philadelphia School and the Future of Architecture, and Laura Wolf-Powers author of University City: History, Race, and Community in the Era of the Innovation District, received The Athenaeum of Philadelphia’s 2022 Art & Architecture Book Award. The Athenaeum, among the nation’s oldest membership libraries, announced its 2022 Art & Architecture Book Award winners at its 208th Annual Shareholder’s Meeting on Monday, April 17, 2023.

The Art & Architecture Book Award honors the year’s most outstanding book on art or architecture written by a Philadelphia-area author or about Philadelphia. The award comes with a public lecture and reception. Lobell and Wolf-Powers will speak on a moderated panel in the Fall of 2023.

Facing several impressive books this year, the committee charged with choosing The Athenaeum’s Art and Architecture 2022 award has decided that two books merit the award. In its decision, the jury noted that Lobell and Wolf-Powers’ books “concern Philadelphia, its built environment, its architectural and urban history, and the influence of its architectural teachers and theoreticians on the city's built fabric. They also suggest some of the many relationships between Philadelphia's architectural and urban planning pedagogical history and its recent and ongoing redevelopment projects to national and international practice and conditions. Both well written, they consider topics central to interests of The Athenaeum and its membership.”

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, among the nation’s oldest membership libraries, Previous recipients of The Athenaeum’s Art & Architecture Award include Therese Dolan and Lynn Miller for Salut: France Meets Philadelphia (2020); Witold Rybczynski for Charleston Fancy: Little Houses and Big Dreams in the Holy City (2019); Carol Easton Soltis for The Art of the Peales in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Adaptations and Innovations (2017); and Barbara Miller Lane for Houses for a New World: Builders and Buyers in American Suburbs, 1945–1965 (2015).

In recognition of his role in establishing the Literary Award, presentations are usually part of the Charles Wharton Stork Memorial Lecture program which was endowed in 1983 by his children. Dr. Stork (1881-1971) was a member of the board of directors of the Athenaeum from 1919 until 1968.

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The Missing Piece

Our story started a year ago, when we decided to renovate our members' lounge, gallery, and update our gorgeous library. We closed for the summer and fundraised to pay for our dream. Would members return in the fall? Yes! You attended our glorious re-opening party in November and new members joined. The Athenaeum bustles with energy. But our annual fund appeal fell short of our operating budget goal. What could we do?

This week, our story takes a dramatic twist. An anonymous donor presented us with a challenge: they'll give $40,000 if donors like you match it, dollar for dollar, by May 31, 2023.

Click here to donate to the Spring Appeal

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Sidewalk South of The Athenaeum Closed

Until further notice, the sidewalk to the south of The Athenaeum on Sixth Street will be closed due to the construction next door. If you are approaching The Athenaeum from that direction, either cross Sixth Street, then cross back, or go down Locust Walk, to Randolph St, to St. James, to Sixth Street. There is also no parking in front of the building.

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Further Reading for Your Upcoming Travels

The travel guides have been flying off the shelves recently, so we've put together an additional shelf of companion reading. From The Collected Traveler to A Literary Companion, you'll find a number of titles to read to inspire your next trip. Not sure where to go? We've also got guides with suggestions on where to travel based on you're favorite books, across the 50 states and throughout the UK.

Staying close to come this season? We've even got a number of books about Philadelphia and Pennsylvania highlighting all the best places to visit, hike, and eat. Learn about Philadelphia trees and animals, or the secret places you've never thought to visit.

These books are all found in the first floor Members Lounge.

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New Vitrine Display: Railroad Maps

Our rotating vitrine exhibit in the second-floor Reading Room has been updated for March to include two items from our Rupp Transportation Collection. We are featuring a map from the 1888 Hand-Book of the Pennsylvania Lines by L.G. McPherson. You can see railroad and street car lines from the time against a map of Center City Philadelphia. Check out our other display to see the Summer Excursion Routes [1886] and track the railroads across the Lehigh Valley.

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In October 1847, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia opened a building like this city had never seen – the first public building in the Italianate Renaissance Style, and the first public building to sport a brownstone façade. The quiet dignity and understated palette of John Notman’s staid building stands in stark contrast to the tumultuous times in which it opened. As part of our celebration of the 175th anniversary of the Athenaeum’s National Historic Landmark, this exhibit will examine not only the building, but the tumultuous years that flank its opening. Architecturally, economically, politically and racially---these were years of dramatic, and often violent, change.

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The Athenaeum Games Cabinet

In the Members Lounge you'll find our antique chess board, but you'll also find additional chess sets, puzzles and mahjong! Athenaeum Members and visitors are encouraged to start up a game of chess, take a stab at a puzzle, or set up a game of mahjong. We also have a small Lego set for the child (or child-at-heart) visiting the library.

Interested in a chess group? Stop by the front office or email Tess Galen We are working on getting a chess group together to meet and play chess a few times a month! Chess and mahjong sets can also be brought into the board room (as long as it is available) if you'd like to be able to talk more freely while playing.

Have extra puzzles laying around? We will happily take a donation of a puzzle that is in good condition! Please only 1 or 2 per person, we only have so much space. Anything else you'd like to see available? Let us know!

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From Hidden City: The Athenaeum of Philadelphia Refreshed With Facade Renovation

Among the city’s many, old institutions, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia is not the oldest, but certainly is one of the most venerable. It was founded 1814 as a subscription library before the establishment of public libraries. In addition to providing its members with access to books, the Athenaeum was also chartered to collect historical materials focusing on American arts such as architecture. Today, it houses significant archives of hundreds of thousands of architectural drawings, photographs, and manuscripts. Read more.

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Children’s and Young Adult Books Available at The Athenaeum

Come to the Second Floor Chess Room to find our Youth Collection. Whether you want to dive into the newest releases or revisit a literary classic, our ever-expanding shelves are waiting for you to browse. The young and the young at heart are welcome to check out our fiction, graphic novel, audio, or nonfiction youth titles to share with their family or read for themselves.

Childhood might be universal, but every person’s experience is unique. We are committed to including as many voices and perspectives as possible. Whether it’s making sure our authors represent a diverse range of identities and backgrounds or providing a variety of reading-level options, we want this collection to feel accessible to and reflective of our community. If you notice a gap in our selections, feel free to tell our librarians or write it down in our suggestion box.

If you need some recommendations for yourself, check out one of these titles in honor of Black History Month. Each of these books was written by authors of color celebrating real-life African Americans or featuring fictional Black protagonists. Sample a series, peruse some poetry, consider a classic, or appreciate the artwork available in this collection.

The door of no return / Kwame Alexander

King and the dragonflies / Kacen Callender

Bud, not Buddy / Christopher Paul Curtis

Say her name / Zetta Elliott ; illustrated by Loveis Wise

You should see me in a crown / Leah Johnson

Harriet Tubman : toward freedom / Whit Taylor & Kazimir Lee ; with an introduction by Carole Boston Weatherford

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Announcing The Athenaeum's 2022 Literary Award Finalists & A Giveaway!

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia's  Literary Award honors each year’s most outstanding literary work by a Philadelphia-area author or a work that is about Philadelphia. The winner will be announced at The Athenaeum’s annual Shareholder Meeting on April 17, 2023 and subsequently to the public. The Athenaeum has print and eBook copies of the finalists in its circulating library for member check-out.  Members are encouraged to read the books and submit their unofficial votes for the best of the four. One entry will be drawn at random on April 17; the winner will receive a signed copy of the book that wins the Literary Award. Ballots and a ballot box are in The Athenaeum’s member lounge.

The four short-listed works for the 2022 award are:

  • Fellowship Point, by Alice Elliott Dark (Simon & Schuster, 2022), which The New York Times praises as “rich with social and psychological insights, both earnest and sly, big ideas grounded in individual emotions.”
  • After the Ivory Tower Falls: How College Broke the American Dream and Blew Up Our Politics – And How to Fix It, by Will Bunch (William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2022), longlisted for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction.
  • Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet: The Founder’s Divisive Death, Enduring Afterlife, and Blueprint for American Prosperity, by Michael Meyer (Mariner Books, 2022), praised by Philly Magazine for providing “a glorious wealth of information on Franklin’s family life, work, dedication to the common man, and determination to see the great American experiment in which he was so intimately involved grow and thrive.”
  • Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, The Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire, by Jonathan Katz (St. Martin’s Press, 2022), called out by The Washington Post as “far more extraordinary than even the life of Smedley Butler... a compelling and insightful meditation on the trauma people still feel as a result of Butler’s career and the American ambitions it represented."

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Travel Guides in the Members' Lounge!

From New England to Norway, Peru to Paris, Egypt to Edinburgh...and many places in between, The Athenaeum has a wide variety of travel guides available for members to check out! Located in the Members' Lounge, come see what we have to offer. We have been adding to and updating this collection recently as members start planning their 2023 travels. Not seeing what you're looking for? Let us know where you're planning to travel, and we can look into finding the perfect guide for you.

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Books Reviews and Journals Available at The Athenaeum

In the First Floor Members' Lounge, you'll find book reviews and journals from across the globe. From New York to Paris, these local and international publications offer a variety of writings. Whether you're looking for new books suggestions, curious what others are saying about a book you loved, or just interested in reading some interesting fiction writing, pick up one of these periodicals!

Inside the New England Review and Paris Review you'll find stories and poems. Inside the New York Review you'll find articles on literature, culture, economics, science and current affairs. In the London Review you'll find long essays, and in Kirkus, book reviews written by top literary critics. Interested in a specific journal you don't see here? Let us know!


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Tom Crane, retired architectural photographer, has died at 82

From the Philadelphia Inquirer, January 23, 2023

"Ralph Thompson Crane III, 82, of Bryn Mawr, retired prolific architectural and interior photographer, Peace Corps volunteer, and self-described “obsessive handyman,” died Jan. 9, of multiple system atrophy at St. Francis Center For Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Darby.

Known professionally and by his family and friends as Tom, Mr. Crane’s photographs were published in many publications, including The Inquirer, for decades. His work is also found in books, online, and elsewhere, and he teamed with writer Roger W. Moss to publish Historic Houses of Philadelphia in 1998, Historic Sacred Places of Philadelphia in 2004, and Historic Landmarks of Philadelphia in 2008." Read more.

In 2006, Tom took photographs of The Athenaeum (pictured on the left) that we have used in our marketing materials ever since.

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Now Available for Public Use: The Record of Strangers

What can you learn from a stranger passing through Philadelphia one, even two hundred years ago? We invite you to explore that question through our newly launched database, The Record of Strangers.

At today’s Athenaeum we encourage anyone to visit us to see our rotating exhibition in the Haas gallery, to peruse the architecture focused hall exhibitions curated by Bruce Laverty, and to experience talks and concerts held in the Busch Reading Room. Now, we also invite those visiting our website to peek into the past of this institution, neighborhood, and city through the newly released online catalog The Record of Strangers.

For much of its history, visitors to the library were signed in by an active member. The record of these signatures was maintained from 1814 through 2006 and was given the name The Record of Strangers. The many volumes of the record have long been a favorite item of Librarian Jill LeMin Lee since it was introduced to her by her predecessor Ellen Rose and former Executive Director Dr. Roger W. Moss. 

The record has now been digitized and indexed with biographies and historical context given for over 1000 identified visitors. We are excited to present anyone using our website with the opportunity to take a step back in time and get to know some of the “strangers” that have passed through our collections. The Athenaeum’s The Record of Strangers is a collaboration across time between members, employees, and visitors of the library since its inception in 1814. 

My hope is that, as well as being entertaining, this index may be used as a research tool. Perhaps it will confirm a suspicion that someone was in Philadelphia at a particular time. It can also be used to see who a particular member met with over the years, or to see the geographic diversity of visitors to Philadelphia. It is our hope that researchers may be led to the full digitized volumes to make their own discoveries,” Librarian Jill LeMin Lee said of the endeavor.

You can peruse the Record here

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2023 Reading Challenge

Looking for a book suggestion to jump start your 2023 reading?

Head to the bookshelves in the Members' Lounge to see our '2023 Reading Challenge'. Challenge yourself to read a book you may not have thought to, or something you missed from past years. We'll keep adding to this shelf as books get checked out, so keep stopping in to see what we pull next!

  • A book from 1923
  • A translation
  • An Athenaeum author
  • A memoir
  • An award winner
  • And more...

Let us know what your 2023 reading goals are!

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Download eBooks through cloudLibrary!

Athenaeum Members of all levels have full access to 'cloudLibrary' our eBook app! As part of a consortium of area libraries, cloudLibrary has thousands of titles of eBook and audiobooks to choose from. eBooks are a great option for members who don't live locally, are out of town, or just prefer the convenience of an app!

In the app you can also find curated collections like Notable Books of 2022, Short Stories, or Mysteries! New titles are added almost daily, so keep an eye out for the latest popular titles.

To get set up, search for cloudLibrary in your device’s app store and download the app. Have your Athenaeum library card and email available. If you do not yet have a card, please contact the librarian. You may have out a maximum of 5 e-books at a time, and they can be renewed if nobody is waiting.

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King of Prussia Blue

Did you know that you can view remnants of an ancient Ocean from the comfort of our newly renovated Member’s Lounge? 

580 million years ago the same Valley Forge where George Washington and his continental Army wintered for six months in 1777-1778 was part of the coastline and beaches of Ancient North America. This dynamic history has left Valley Forge, and Pennsylvania as a whole, with unique geologic features, formations, and opportunities for mining architectural materials, including a marble called King of Prussia (KOP) Blue or Pennsylvania Blue.

With the recent renovation of our building comes new opportunities to showcase the materials used in the construction and decoration of the Athenaeum. This includes KOP Blue, which had a short-lived bout of fame and widespread popularity across the city in the early 19th century. In our Member’s Lounge, it can be seen adorning our fireplace in white and gray swirls of calcium carbonate and graphite.

If you have taken a stroll down any street in Old City, you will see slabs of KOP Blue Marble utilized as steps and windowsills. It was also used as a primary building material for several notable buildings including the Second National Bank of the United States, John Haviland's Franklin Institute (Atwater Kent Museum), and Thomas U. Walter’s Founder’s Hall at Girard College. 

Over time, it became clear that KOP Blue was more susceptible to erosion and degradation than other exterior marbles. This, in addition to an ease of access to hardier marbles from New England and Georgia, ushered in the end of KOP Blue’s popularity just a few decades after it was introduced. 

We are pleased to have a well-preserved piece of geologic, architectural, and regional history on display in our Member’s Lounge and hope to see you soon!

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The Front Entrance is Now Open!

If you have visited The Athenaeum in the past few weeks, you've had the pleasure of a rare opportunity; entering through the old side door on St. James Street! While that was fun and exciting, we're happy to announce the front entrance on 6th Street is now open!

When you come in, look for the freshly painted lampposts and book drop in the vestibule. We look forward to seeing you again!

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To our new members: welcome!

More than 60 new members joined The Athenaeum in November 2022, making it our best month for new enrollment in living memory! We are so excited to welcome our new members into our growing Athenaeum community.

Did you join the Athenaeum during or after November 2021? Are you a longtime member, but haven't familiarized yourself with the Athenaeum yet? Save the date for a New Members' Reception on Tuesday, January 17 at 5pm. You can learn more about The Athenaeum's history and member benefits available to you, all while meeting other new enrollees.

RSVP for the reception here. We hope to see you in January!


Image: Birds in Flight, Robert M. Campbell Collection, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia


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Get a limited edition tote bag and mug while they're available!

Our limited edition tote bags and mugs are the perfect gifts for the Athenaeum member, Philadelphia history enthusiast, or book lover in your life. Stop by our Member Lounge to scoop them up before they're gone! Bags are $20 and mugs are $15, or save $5 by purchasing both! These make a great accompaniment to a gift membership. Click here to explore our membership options.

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The Perfect Gift: An Athenaeum Membership!

Looking for a gift for someone who has everything? Give the gift of an Athenaeum Membership! Prices start at just $35 for an annual membership that includes the use of our workspaces, access to our circulating library, and free/discounted tickets to programs. Click here to explore our membership options and click "Is this a gift?" at checkout to fill out the lucky recipient's information!

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Members Did You Know?: The Periodicals are now available in the Member Lounge

Did you know?

The Athenaeum's collection of circulating periodicals has moved down to the first floor member lounge. There are two racks on each side of the room that hold over 20 different publications! For news, pick up The Atlantic or Philadelphia Magazine, for a British escape, pick up Country Life or Gardens Illustrated. To go back in time pick up Antiques, or 19th Century Magazine. While we encourage you to curl up with a magazine and cup of tea in the new lounge, you may also check these out to enjoy at home!

On the coffee tables you'll find The Inquirer, The New York Times and Philadelphia Business Journal. These items do not circulate.

Not seeing what you're looking for? Please let us know what types of magazines and newspapers you like to read and we will take them into consideration as we expand our offerings.

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We're open, and we've been featured on WHYY!

After months of renovations, we're open and so thrilled to welcome you back to the Athenaeum! Our first week back was an exciting one: we kicked things off with a feature on WHYY that details our progress. Scroll through the article for some photos showing our final preparations for reopening!

We've been busy all week saying hello to old friends and welcoming first-time visitors. Close to 300 people joined us for our Renovation Celebration reopening party, and it was an absolute joy to celebrate with all of our attendees. The Athenaeum came alive with partygoers enjoying our new Member Lounge, perusing the Matisse exhibition, and gathering in the Reading Room to engage in lively conversation over a drink.

If you haven't stopped by yet, we can't wait to see you! Our exterior restoration project is ongoing, so the front entrance is currently inaccessible. Walk to the back entrance off of St. James Court and up the ramp to enter the building.


Photo courtesy of Matthew Krissel, KieranTimberlake

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Special Announcement: Rhythm and Meaning, our Reopening Exhibition!

75 years ago today, Henri Matisse’s Jazz was published for the first time in an edition of just 250 copies. This groundbreaking artist’s book has been inspiring readers, writers, and artists ever since, and we are thrilled to be displaying Matisse’s Jazz illustrations in full once we reopen in November!

The exhibition, Rhythm and Meaning, will explore Jazz as an intermingling of the written word, bound volume, and work of art. This will be the first time all 20 of Jazz’s illustrations have been exhibited in Philadelphia since the mid-20th century. This exhibition will be free and open to all of Philadelphia’s book lovers to enjoy. We can’t wait for you to stop by!

Special thanks to Athenaeum members Frances and Michael Baylson, who have generously lent their copy of Jazz for display.

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Shims Added to the Reading Room Floor

Over the course of construction so far, plenty of people have asked us: "Have you encountered any surprises while renovating the building?" Fortunately, any surprises our contractors have come across are fairly interesting—and at worst, are easy fixes!

One such surprise has been the discovery that one of the iron bolts used to support the Reading Room gradually popped up over time as the timbers surrounding it shrank, causing an unmistakeable lump in the floor. You probably never noticed it, however, since someone strategically placed an antique globe over the lump long ago! In order to alleviate the issue, our contractors have laid wooden shims over the original timbers to create a more gradual slope. Once the floorboards are returned to their original place, the lump will be less noticeable. We'll have a reading table placed over it to prevent any tripping hazards—but see if you can spot the slope once we reopen!

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Gallery Windows Revealed

"What light through yonder window breaks..."

That would be the light from Washington Square Park. If you've ever been inside The Athenaeum's Haas Gallery, you would have seen four walls adorned with paintings, photographs, architectural drawings and maps. But from the the that a window? And from the stairwell, another? Yes!

One of the most obvious changes to our first floor gallery is the opening of the two windows; one that looks out onto 6th Street with a view of Washington Square, and one that opens to our grand stairway, letting light in from the clerestory. These changes will enhance the gallery experience by brightening and opening the space. They will also open the Athenaeum to the neighborhood by allowing a sneak peak of our amazing exhibitions from the street.

Stay tuned for information on the exciting exhibition we have planned for our reopening!

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Architectural Team Highlight, Part 3: A 21st Century Athenaeum, in KieranTimberlake's Words

Scroll down to see August 8th and 15th's posts for parts 1 and 2 of our series highlighting members of the 21st Century Athenaeum's architectural team. For the 3rd and final post in this series, we asked the KieranTimberlake team for an architect's perspective on the ongoing renovations they helped us plan:

"KT has enjoyed working with the dedicated Athenaeum leadership and staff members to enhance the design and quality of the existing building. From the beginning, the goal was to work carefully within the existing building design to improve the member, visitor, and staff experience, starting with the first impression as one walks through the door. How might we create more presence on the street? Where and how should we target improvements to maximize the impact with minimal disruption to the historic building? How might key spaces within the Athenaeum evolve to advance the Athenaeum's capacity to build a vibrant community, fostering discourse and the pursuit of knowledge? 

The modifications currently underway begin with a more expansive and welcoming entry and reception area for everyone, directly from the front door and adjacent to the Haas Gallery, providing new places to meet, socialize and relax. The new reception and lounge, coupled with improvements to the gallery lighting, seating, and finishes, will enhance the quality and atmosphere to present, view, and share the collection and other works of art. We have also carefully uncovered historic windows along the ground floor to 6th street and the park, expanding the visual connectivity to the gallery and new lounge with the street and park, revitalizing the dialogue between the city and the Athenaeum. These targeted and impactful improvements on the first level will welcome the community into a new sequence of rooms that are emblematic of the Athenaeum’s mission to nurture one’s curiosity and strengthen community through learning and discourse.    

The second-floor reading room, a gem of a space in the city, is flooded with natural light and layered with 175 years of history. In a space of this inherent quality, the role of the design is to be quiet and subtle, carefully inserting support for everyday activities while honoring the existing fabric. Improved seating options and worktables, lighting, and more electrical outlets will provide members additional comfort, convenience, and enjoyment.  

In addition to improvements for members and visitors, the third-floor workplace areas for staff are also being updated with new furniture and other improvements to ensure a comfortable, functional, and well-organized environment. A commitment to the team, their ongoing contributions, and their capacity to enrich the Athenaeum with creativity, focus, and dedication."   

Image: Athenaeum staff and Board members meet with KieranTimberlake staff and Haverstick-Borthwick contractors for a weekly construction progress meeting.

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Athenaeum Members Visit to the Wagner Free Institute of Science

On Friday, August 26, a group of Athenaeum Members paid a visit to the Wagner Free Institute of Science. The group got a brief lecture on the history of William Wagner and the early days of the institute in their lecture hall, followed by a view of their library, complete with a few special items on display. Last, the upstairs museum, which contain Wagner's collection of everything from the tiniest of minerals, to an entire horse skeleton!

Like the Athenaeum, the Wagner comes from a time in Philadelphia's history where knowledge and learning were of upmost importance. The building, also a National Historic Landmark, looks nearly identical to how it looked when it opened in 1865. Whether you're a lover of Philadelphia, history, science, or all three, the Wagner is well worth a visit, it's truly one of Philadelphia's greatest gems!

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Architectural Team Highlight, Part 2: Andrew Cronin, KieranTimberlake

Scroll down to see August 8th's post for part 1 of our series highlighting members of the 21st Century Athenaeum's architectural team.

While the many enhancements proposed and refined by KieranTimberlake are taking shape now, we would like to focus on team members who have worked tirelessly to improve your Athenaeum!

Over the last two decades, Andrew Cronin, team leader, has focused on campus renovation projects including the Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges at Yale University and Lowell House at Harvard University. He served as the Project Architect for the Consortium for Building Energy Innovation, a retrofit of a former recreation facility at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Andrew was also the Project Architect for High Horse Ranch, a sustainable, award-winning private home in rural Northern California, and Congregation Rodeph Shalom, a renovation and addition that expanded a historic Philadelphia synagogue to accommodate its growing congregation.

The full project team is listed below. Many thanks to each team member for their care and consideration in envisioning a 21st Century Athenaeum!


Full KT Project Team:

Matt Krissel, AIA, Partner* **

Stephen Kieran, FAIA, Partner

Andrew Cronin, AIA, Principal* **

Tim Peters, AIA, Principal

Leah Kendrick, Architectural Staff**

Elizabeth Harris, Architectural Staff**

* Indicates project team leads.

** Indicates actively working on the project

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Floorboards Raised in the Reading Room

Work began this week in the Reading Room to raise the floorboards and add new electrical wiring throughout the space. Bringing electricity up through the floor creates minimal disturbance to the appearance of the Reading Room, but maximum impact for our members once the space reopens! New and improved electrical access throughout the Reading Room will allow members to write their next novel, tackle a work project, or listen to an audiobook without worry for their device's battery life. Once electrical work is complete, the floorboards will be restored to their original position. To learn more about the improvements in the works in the Reading Room, visit our 21st Century Athenaeum campaign page.

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Architectural Team Highlight, Part 1: Matt Krissel, KieranTimberlake

Since 2018, Athenaeum Staff and Board members have worked with the Philadelphia-based architectural firm KieranTimberlake to develop a plan for maintaining and enhancing the distinctive beauty of our Italianate Revival space. Four years into the process, this plan is underway as the 21st Century Athenaeum Campaign.

While the many enhancements proposed and refined by KT are taking shape now, we would like to highlight team members who have worked tirelessly to improve your Athenaeum! Stay tuned for part 2 of this series of posts.

Matthew Krissel, team lead, is an architect and partner at KieranTimberlake. He designs places, buildings, and environments, connects people with ideas, and creates new methods and platforms for thinking and making.  He has combined his interest in computation and technology with a deep understanding of how to connect people, programming, and design aspirations in a handful of notable projects. As the chair of KieranTimberlake’s Digital Design Visioning Group, Matthew helps foster digital innovation, visualization, and knowledge sharing throughout the firm. He has lectured at AIA Technology in Architectural Practice (TAP), AIA Committee on Design, Facades+, Harvard University, National Institute of Building Sciences, and elsewhere. 

The full project team is listed below. Many thanks to each team member for their care and consideration in envisioning a 21st Century Athenaeum!


Full KT Project Team:

Matt Krissel, AIA, Partner* **

Stephen Kieran, FAIA, Partner

Andrew Cronin, AIA, Principal* **

Tim Peters, AIA, Principal

Leah Kendrick, Architectural Staff**

Elizabeth Harris, Architectural Staff**

* Indicates project team leads.

** Indicates actively working on the project

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Demolition Begins on the Athenaeum's First Floor

As part of the 21st Century Athenaeum Campaign, demolition has begun to create a beautiful new lounge, which will more than double space for our members on the building's first floor. Our general contractor for this campaign is Haverstick-Borthwick, a PA-based firm that has undertaken countless construction and restoration projects in the Philadelphia area for 100 years.

Haverstick-Borthwick's Principal, Bill Cobb, has worked at the company for more than 50 years and oversees all of its projects and clients, including the University of Pennsylvania, the Curtis Institute of Music, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Merck, Verizon, and many more. Cobb has been HB's president since 1984, during which time he has built relationships with repeat clients and cultivated extensive involvement with the Philadelphia-based General Building Contractors Association.

One of HB's Project Managers is Edward Weinlein, who brings a wealth of historic construction and restoration experience to the Athenaeum. Weinlein's projects include St. Peter's Church and Christ Church, just steps away from Washington Square. He has worked at the firm for over 30 years.

John Farrell another Project Manager, has won awards from the Preservation Alliance of Philadelphia and the General Building Contractors Association for his involvement in historic restoration. Over the course of his career, Farrell has undertaken projects at locations on the National Register of Historic Places, including Philadelphia's Chemical Heritage Foundation and the Church of St. Luke and the Epiphany. He has also overseen several projects at the American Philosophical Society, just a few minutes away from the Athenaeum.

We are thrilled to have such an experienced team behind the exciting enhancements unfolding in our space. Our staff, architects, and contractors have worked hard to operate well within the high standards set by the National Historic Landmarks Program. Click here to see renderings of what you can expect when construction is complete. Stay tuned for more updates on our progress!

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Athenaeum Members Visit to the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts

On Thursday, July 21st, Athenaeum Members took a tour of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania. The staff pulled for us a selection of items pertaining to early Philadelphia and the founding of the University of Pennsylvania. An Athenaeum favorite, the Thomas Holme map of 1682, the original charter of the University (signed by Ben Franklin!) and the early rules students were forced to follow were all on display.

Attendees also got a brief tour of their current exhibition, Marilyn Monroe: From Stage to Silkscreen which features a number of exhibition posters depicting Andy Warhol’s famous 1962 photo silkscreen paintings of actress Marilyn Monroe.

Also at the Kislak Center is their state of the art conservation lab, research facility, and the Furness Shakespeare Library. Thank you to the Kislak staff for showing us around your wonderful library, we WILL be back!

Athenaeum Shareholders and use their library card to access Van Pelt Library, but appointments are required to view items held at the Kislak Center.

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Athenaeum Members Visit to the American Philosophical Society

On July 15th, Athenaeum Members took a visit to see the American Philosophical Society's current exhibition "Becoming Weatherwise: A History of Climate Science in America." Museum Educator Ali Rospond gave a guided tour of the exhibition, highlighting some of the particularly interesting items on display like James Madison's weather journal, a wall length map of a tornado's path, and an ex-APS-fellow's scientific studies. The exhibition takes visitors on a tour of climate history and how the work early scientists did is still being used today. The exhibition is open until December.

APS recommends reserving a time to see this exhibition, RSVP here. 

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Brownstone Conservation Begins at the Athenaeum

If you walked through Washington Square last week, you may have noticed that scaffolding was being constructed around the Athenaeum. This marks the start of an extensive effort to conserve our 175-year-old building, including maintaining the beautiful and historically significant brownstone that helps to make the Athenaeum so distinctive. Additional components of the project include replacing deteriorated brownstone at the base of the building, conserving exterior metalwork, repointing all of the mortar joints, and repairing or replacing damaged stucco. 

Kreilick Conservation is undertaking the project, and their team boasts an impressive resumé of local preservation projects, including 30th Street Station, Founder's Hall at Girard College, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, City Hall, and the Second Bank of the United States. When the project is complete, you can expect to enjoy a newly preserved exterior that will last for another 175 years—and beyond! Thanks to a new lighting system to be installed by electrical contractor Marc Hoyer, the expertly-maintained facade will be visible even at night.

This restoration of the Athenaeum's brownstone is supported by the William B. Dietrich Foundation.

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"In Her Own Right" Project Receives C.F.W. Coker Award

"The “In Her Own Right” project, conducted by the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries, Inc. (PACSCL), is the 2022 recipient of the C.F.W. Coker Award from the Society of American Archivists (SAA). The award recognizes finding aids, finding aid systems, innovative development in archival description, or descriptive tools that enable archivists to produce more effective finding aids."  Read more from the SAA...

The “In Her Own Right” project, completed in 2021, involved twenty-four partner institutions digitizing and describing manuscript and print materials from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries leading up to the ratification of national women’s suffrage in 1920.

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia contributed to this project with its collection of letters and correspondence from Sarah Josepha Hale. Hale (1788-1879) was a major literary figure of the 19th century. In 1828 she began editing The Ladies’ Magazine of Boston (later Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1837), the first magazine for women to be edited by a woman. Godey’s was based in Philadelphia and eventually she moved to Philadelphia to become more involved in her editorship of the magazine. Hale is also the author of Mary had a Little Lamb and the main person responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday. The collection contains letters relating to both her professional and personal life and spans a 43 year period. It also contains a small number of letters between her close relatives.

Learn more about Hale from our event with Melanie Kirkpatrick from November, 2021.

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Atelier Fine Art Services at the Athenaeum

On Wednesday, June 1, Atelier Fine Art Services came to the Athenaeum to help us move the more complex, delicate and priceless art objects in preparation for our renovations. Atelier handled these pieces with much care and consideration. The large stone in our 19th Century water cooler took all three movers to handle, and the Bouvier Desk was nicely tied up so nothing would come loose!

While most objects will spend the summer safely tucked away onsite, King Alexander and the Stag by Charles Robert Leslie (after Benjamin West) was moved offsite to the Atelier storage facility. Here it is being moved across Sixth Street into the awaiting truck.

Thank you Atelier for your assistance in this part of our project. We look forward to seeing our collections in their new locations throughout the building in the fall!

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Summer Research Hiatus

In-person research will be closed from Monday, May 9 through Friday, November 4. Research inquiries should be directed to Bruce Laverty.  All email research requests will be answered in a timely fashion remotely. For those requiring access to non-digitized archival collections, we will be pleased to set up in-person appointments as soon as we reopen.


Our digitized collections are available for browsing 24/7.