Salem Athenaeum

The Salem Athenaeum in Salem, MA is another one of the remaining membership libraries in the United States, AND it is one of the libraries that Patron Members of the Institute have access to.

The Social Library, founded in 1760, and the Salem Philosophical Library, founded in 1781, are the two original institutions that eventually merged to become the Salem Athenaeum in 1810. The Social Library was a club for the elite of Salem and cost £11 per year (approximately $1500 per year – today & converted into U.S. dollars). By 1810, there was a lot of overlap of membership between the Social Library and the Salem Philosophical Library, so the two libraries decided to merge into one library.

The Athenæum has more than 50,000 volumes in its circulating and research collections. There are four collections of books gathered in the 18th century: the Social Library, the Philosophical Library, the Holyoke Collection, and the Theological Collection. Included are a broad collection of works of literature, history, science, natural history, voyage and travel, religion, philosophy and more.  Edward Augustus Holyoke was the first president of the Athenæum; the Holyoke collection is a group of books that were in his personal library. The Theological Collection includes commentaries, theological tracts, and sermons. The Athenæum also has a sizable collection of books published in the second half of the 19th century and early decades of the 20th century, including works of literature, biographies, historical and scientific works, and travel books.

The Athenæum purchases new fiction, mysteries, poetry and popular non-fiction: art, biography, current affairs, history, scientific discovery, and travel. A special collection focus is on books and libraries. The Athenæum also subscribes to periodicals related to the book collections. Books and magazines may circulate to the members of the Athenæum.


Amateur Hour : HOAX!

Last Tuesday was the library’s second Amateur Hour, which featured media prankster, Alan Abel. While Will helped Abel and Joshua Foer (co-curator of the series) set-up for the event, I was charged with taking tickets. At the height of ticketed patrons checking in, an elderly man dropped a flier next to me, mumbling, “I don’t care about the birds.” I was a bit confused, but went back to collecting tickets and chatting with library members. Shortly before the event began, I had a chance to read the flier:

Bird Watchers are Voyeurs!

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, 48 million people watch birds. A private research group, the Good Conduct Society, has discovered Bird Watchers are more sexually active than others.
The elderly find that Bird Watching is not strenuous. And this erotic experience can be enjoyed privately through binoculars.
‘Most disturbing,’ said the Society’s director Anaida Krok, ‘are the groups of Bird Watchers seeking vicarious sexual gratification in the woods. Shamelessly, they blatantly observe God’s defenseless creatures mating.’

Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Abel explained that he and his wife pass out these fliers in Washington, D.C. from time to time. It’s an extension of his social commentary from the 1960s when he started the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals – an organization to clothe animals.

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.


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.'”

The Card Catalog, part II

Many patrons ask me, “So, this unique classification system – is it easier to use than the Dewey Decimal System?”

I’m always hesitant to answer because it does take time to become accustomed to the system and I haven’t figured out a shortened/summarized version yet.  In all honesty, I’m still learning the ins and outs of Borden’s classification system.  I don’t want to overwhelm anyone…

The books are shelved by class and sub-class and from there by order of acquisition.  This means that books by the same author may or may not be next to each other on the shelf, nor are the books put in alphabetical order by author.

Also, if the acquisition number is 1145, does not mean that it the 1145th book on the shelf in that subclass….Take a look at J6 (which is Fine Arts – Painting & Decoration) – the acquisition numbers are in chronological order, but there are numbers missing.  This is because when a books is deaccessioned (taken out of circulation) – its acquisition number is retired forever.  For a library that has been around since 1826, there are thousands of books that have been taken from the shelves to make way for other (not necessarily new) books.

So where do these deaccessioned books disappear to?  Mostly – to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books (located on the 3rd and 4th floors of the library).

This is the 4th floor cemetery – thousands of books fill the plastic bags.  Over the past year or so, the library’s Book Committee has been busy going through all of these forgotten books.  They have a specific criteria for which ones will be kept, the ones to be sold at the next book sale, and the ones to be recycled.

This photo is of already sorted books in the Children’s reading room – located on the 3rd floor and currently not open to the general public.  More on the great work of the Book Committee later…

The books that will be kept will be put back into circulation.  HOPEFULLY – all of these books will still have their book plates, indicating their classification and acquisition codes.  Unfortunately, there has been some misunderstanding of the classification system since the 1930s (example: Far Eastern Asian History is currently classified as European History due to WWII).  This will undoubtedly create some more confusion.

I will explain the growth intentions of library classification systems and what happened to the Institute Library’s classification system after William Borden left the library in Part III.

The Story of the Nations

One of the perks of showing up to work early is I am free to lazily read random finds from the stacks.  This morning, Vickie had a surprise waiting for me on my desk.She saw the title while processing new books to add to the library’s collection – accessioned in 1893.  She went to the shelf to see if was still there….sure enough, it was.

The Story of the Nations: Australiasia – It’s the story of the British colonies, published in 1893.  G. Mitchell was the last person to check the book out – in October 1897.  I love Mr. Borden’s beautiful calligraphy…

Since I arrived at the library before my shift starts – I had time to thumb through the book (my original intention was to work on a translating project, but per usual, I was distracted). So, I learned a bit about “Australasia” The photos below are some of my favorites from the book.


Yale Day of Service

HUGE thanks to all the volunteers who came for the Yale Day of Service on Saturday, May 12th.  They got SO much accomplished for the library.

Photos to come.