My love for rare books and archives bloomed while I was an undergraduate student when I worked at a student archivist for DePaul’s Special Collections and Archives Library.

The status of the Institute Library’s archives is, umm, sad.  Other than some year-less posters, newspaper clippings (again, without the date attached) ticket stubs, we don’t really any of the library’s records from the 19th century.  The Beinecke does have many of our missing records.

Tomorrow I am taking a field trip to the Beinecke and will be lost to the world in the archives, uncovering more of the mysteries of the Institute Library.  I have eight pages of Institute Library documents that are housed at Yale.

A few titles on my list of documents to seek out tomorrow:

  • “A contract by and between the city of New Haven and the New Haven Young Men’s Institute”  1886
  • “An Appeal for the Young Men’s Institute” 1854
  • “Catalogue of books in the library of the Young Men’s Institute” 1840
  • “Constitution of the Young Mechanic’s Institute” 1831

I am so incredibly excited!!!  I will share my discoveries as soon as possible!


The Library’s Globe

The library’s globe is beautiful and fits its setting well – perhaps a bit too well, since most people seem to walk right by it.  A few weeks ago, some of our patrons were carefully examining the library’s globe and discovered that Antarctica is not a real place on this globe!  In their excitement, they called Will and I over to confirm that, indeed, Antarctica was not there.

Instead, the mapmakers put “Antarctic Ocean” and a few islands that they knew about.




The date on the map is hard to make out – perhaps 1892…


We found the Austro-Hungarian Empire and that the countries of Africa as we know them today, are not on the map.


Editorial Piece on the Institute – 1832

Here is a reproduction of an editorial from the Young Mechanics Institute (now the Institute Library)

Connecticut Journal
Tuesday, September 4, 1832

Article: “Young Mechanics Institute”

“Messrs Editors – At the present day, when so many institutions established, for the purpose of diffusing the benefits of education among the younger portion of the community, especially mechanics and the laboring classes, it may not be amiss to call the attention of the public, bur more particularly of our youth, to an institution which has long existed among them, and which is worthy of their notice. It is a matter of astonishment, that when so many facilities are afforded to young men for acquiring useful knowledge, they should all be slighted or treated with indifference. In most of our large towns there are lyceums, or similar associations, to aid them in the pursuit of learning; in our sister city, (Hartford,) such institutions exits, but in what manner they are supported we are not informed. In general, the value and worth of them are not appreciated; in one instance with which we are acquainted, the young men of a neighboring city were presented with a valuable library of about 1500 volumes, which excited some interest among them for a short time, and then their society languished, and the give and the advantages which it offered, were forgotten. The institution of which we are about to speak, although it has not shared the same fate, has been in a great measure overlooked by those for whose benefit it was designed; and the idea that many be ignorant of its existence, and teh advantages which it affords for acquiring useful information has interested us to bring it before the public on the present occasion.

“This society dates its existence from August 1st, 1826, when eight young men (apprentices) associated themselves under the title of the Apprentice’s Literary Association, having their object the ‘attainment of useful knowledge.’ Of the eight original members, four are now master mechanics in this city, and can testify to the utility of the Association. Little can be said with respect to its progress until November, when the constitution was so altered as to include the journeymen as well as apprentices, and the name change to that of the Young Mechanics Institute, which has ever since retained. In consequence of some exertions on the part of members, a considerable addition was made to the roll of the society, and the good will of some of our most influential citizens enlisted in its behalf. From that time to the present, it has continued to exist, with some fluctuation – at one time containing seventy members, and at another forty: the present number is about forty-five. With a few honorable exceptions, it has received no aid from the community, (although application has been made to the General Society of Mechanics for assistance) and it is mostly owing to its own efforts that it has gained any degree of celebrity.

“The design of this society can be more fully understood if we examine the first article of its Constitution, from the first article of which it appears that ‘the object of the Institute is mutual assistance in the attainment of useful knowledge.’

“Art. II. To effect this object, the members shall attend to the study of some branch of practical science, by attending lectures or associating in classes, such as the following, viz. Grammar, Geography, History, Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Natural Philosophy, Chemistry or such other studies as they, with the concurrence of the executive committee, shall think proper.
Art. IV. Each class shall meet once a week for recitation under the instruction of a monitor, in the absence of a teacher – and such monitor shall be chosen quarterly by the members of the class.
Art. V. The payment of 25 cents monthly by persons, over eighteen years of age, and 18 cents by those younger, shall constitute membership.
Art. VII. The executive committee shall have charges of all the property of the Institute, defray necessary expenses, and appropriate the surplus of funds for procuring teachers, (if practicable) books, apparatus for illustrating the sciences, &c.

“In pursuance of the second article, several courses of lectures have been given, by gentlemen of science and information belonging to this community; one of whom was the late Henry E. Dwight, Esq. who, besides volunteering his personal services (gratuitously) for nearly a year, assisted the Institute in a pecuniary manner, and was one of its warmest friends.  Classes have also been organized in most of the branches of knowledge mentioned above, and so far as our experience has extended, are more beneficial to those concerned than lectures. To gain knowledge requires active effort: the passive instruction imparted by lectures make but little impression, compared with that made by patient, persevering study. But so long as the semblance of knowledge can be maintained by attending lectures, and while they serve as a cloak for ignorance, it will be difficult to persuade our young men that it is by study alone that substantial information can be acquired. There are at present existing in the Institute both lectures and classes; yet we rely chiefly upon the latter, to give us credit and stability to our association.

“The society possesses a small but valuable library, which has been mostly procured by means of the surplus funds arising from the monthly taxes of the members, which, after deducting the necessary expenses, leave but little to be appropriated for the purchase of books. The terms of membership are very low : so small, indeed is the tax, that we should think no one would forgo the acquirement of so many advantages: and the fee was purposely made thus small, that every one, however might enjoy the privileges which the3 Institute holds out to those who are desirous to joining it.

“This institution commends itself to all classes of the community – to the wealthy, to those who strenuously advocate the Lyceum system, (as it approximates very much to the nature of those associations,) and to those also who are able, and might be willing to assist us by way of instruction, if not in a pecuniary manner. Mechanics, and those who have apprentices, might do much to advance the prosperity of the Institute, by prevailing upon those under their care to become members; and it is a duty which every master owes his ward, to provide him, if he is not able to meet the expense, with the means of acquiring useful and practical information.

“But it is the young men of this community who must sustain this society: others may favor it in a pecuniary respect, yet it is the intellectual spirit alone that can give it perpetuity. To the young men, therefore, and especially to the young mechanics, would we appeal, for their countenance and support: on them rests the question, whether or not this institution shall be a blessing to the present and future generations. We would not have it understood that the Institute is in a sinking condition; – such is not the fact; it can more than support itself in its present situation, and many members are willing to pledge themselves that it shall not die, if their efforts can sustain it. But we feel that this association will not answer its design, while so few, comparatively speaking, are connected with it: it is our wish that all the young men of this city might becoming interested in it, and they can not better sub-serve its prosperity than by acting in accordance with the object declared in the constitution. There are many, very many, who might thus act, and while they benefited themselves by the acquirement of intellectual wealth, they would also aid in giving to the mechanical classes a more elevated character, and a higher standing in society than they now posses.


Library Love

I work in the most interesting and unique place ever.  The Institute Library is my all-time favorite place to hang out.  I love giving the tour of the library and when I’m not at work – I tend to only talk about the history and current happenings of the library.  After several months, my brother, who lives in Chicago, was openly annoyed by me jabbering on and on about “MY library.”

“I get it, Megan.  You work in a library.  It’s really old.  I don’t care anymore.”

He visited me last weekend and I immediately took him to visit the Institute Library. The first stop of the New Haven Tour became the only place we visited. “This place is AWESOME!” He fell in love instantly and told me that when he is a billionaire, he will give loads of money to the library (he’s currently an unemployed college student).

I showed him a few of my favorite titles and suggested he read the introduction to Once on a time, which is about traveling by plotting out isosceles triangles and moving in this way to get from point A to point B, instead of in a direct route from A to B.

My brother spent the rest of his time in New Haven reading at the table in the biography room.  It was wonderful.

Institute Library Trivia

  • The book mailing service was approved by members in the spring of 1960 and began June 1st of that year.
  • The current home of the Institute Library was built in 1878
  • Membership dues increased from $6.00 per year to $10.00 per year in January 1965
  • What is now the Biography Room was originally the Ladies’ Reading Room

Ladies reading in the Ladies’ Reading room in 1944

  • The Institute Library had 750 members & about 35,000 books in 1939
  • Cunningham & Son was a sail, awning, and banner company that was on the 4th floor of the current home of the Institute Library.  It closed in 1915

    Advertisement from the 1912 New Haven Directory

  • No other businesses occupied the 4th floor after Cunningham & Son
  • The air conditioner was installed in the summer of 1956
  • The third floor of the library closed in October of 1971 for financial reasons & was reopened as gallery space in October of 2011

The Archives

Mr. Beecher’s Lecture for the Institute Library newspaper excerpt 1861

“The lecture by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher at Music Hall, last evening, on ‘Two Hundred Years Ago,’ was fully attended, and was listened to with attention, and, with few exceptions, profound respect. A slight attempt early in the evening, on the part of a few boys and half-grown men, to disturb the speaker by groans and hisses, was promptly put down by the hearty applause of the more respectable portion of the audience, who seemed determined to maintain the freedom of speech, and, had they not been dismayed by the very timely request of Mr. Marble, would undoubtedly have expelled the disturbers.  Capt. Hayden was there with nearly his entire command, and succeeded in maintaining comparative quiet outside the hall during the lecture – but when Mr. Beecher came out a portion of the crowd greeted him with groans and as he entered the carriage two or three rotten eggs were hurled at the vehicle, one of which struck against and broke the door-glass.  Compared with the threats which had previously been made against the lecturer, the demonstration by the mob was a decided ‘fizzle.'”

Institute Library Membership in the 19th Century

“Membership is not a simple thing.  It derives, in one form or another, from the social impulse and structure that brought the libraries into existence in the first place, some 250 years ago, and the principle remains the same today.” (Nicolas Barker, America’s Membership Libraries, page 2)

There are three elements that are consistent across almost all membership libraries: shareholders (those who first found the funds that brought the library into being); members (those who pay to use the library); and the general public (those who are not members but still, in someway, engaged with the library).

The Institute Library is the only membership library in North America (that we know of) that was started by working class men instead of a guiding patron with deep pockets.  In the 19th century and into the first two decades of the 20th century, the Institute Library used a tiered membership model as a way of providing members in a more cost efficient way.  It was an active member in the community until the end of the 19th century and is now reengaging with the New Haven community.

This bookplate indicates that there were two memberships options – one that offered just the privileged of book borrowing ($3.00 per year) and the other that allowed book borrowing and the use of the library’s reading room ($5.00 per year).

An Institute Library card to use the Reading Room for only four weeks – c. 1840

Early on in the library’s existence, membership for women cost less than membership for men.  The library opened its doors to women in 1835.  This price sheet is from the 1860s.  During several decades, the Institute Library also offered life-time memberships and family memberships.

Finally, a tally of the different types of membership in 1916:

The Institute Library is returned to its founding roots by reengaging with the community starting in 2011 and July 1st, 2012, the library launched a new tiered membership model, after nearly 100 years.