Forerunners and early competitors to America's free public libraries came in many varieties. The Working Men's Institute libraries were one of those varieties. The first Working Men's Institute was founded in 1838 in New Harmony, Indiana with a mission to disseminate useful knowledge to those who work with their hands. The Working Men's Institute in New Harmony was the first of 144 such institutions in Indiana and 16 in Illinois. The Institute in New Harmony is the only one remaining. It's library which is Indiana's oldest library still functions as a public library. More background information on the New Harmony Working Men's Institute and its building can be found here. Membership libraries that were based on the occupation of their members included mechanics libraries and mercantile libraries which date back to 1820. The San Francisco Mechanics Institute Library is one example of a mechanics library that still exists. The library of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen in New York City is another. Mercantile libraries served merchants and their clerks. The Mercantile Library of Cincinnati is an existing example of this type of library. The Mercantile Library of New York which began as true mercantile library has transformed itself in recent years into The Center for Fiction.
Knapp School Libraries Project
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