Benjamin Franklin referred to the Library Company of Philadelphia which he helped found in 1731 as “the mother of all North American subscription libraries”. Although the mother has survived for 279 years, most of her many children have long since disappeared. There are a few survivors, however, and they deserve recognition for their tenacity and longevity. The libraries have been referred to by a variety of names but the term "membership library" is the umbrella that they have most recently been grouped under. In the 250 year club are the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Redwood Library and Athenaeum which is pictured on the postcard and postal card above, the New York Society Library, and the Charleston Library Society. A good list of other surviving membership libraries is located on the website of the New York Society Library. For the most part, these libraries have had to adjust their mission in order to survive. A good example of this is the Mercantile Library in New York City. It is now The Center For Fiction with the additional explanation "Founded in 1820 as the Mercantile Library". The membership libraries are independent cultural institutions and with the exception of the Redwood Library and Athenaeum have been overlooked by the United States Postal Service. The Redwood Library was honored for its 250th anniversary in 1999 (2 years late) with a pre-paid postal card. The Library Company of Philadelphia was overlooked on both its 250th anniversary and its 275th anniversary. Colleges and universities are routinely honored on postal cards on their 200th anniversary by the United States Postal Service. So it seems only fitting that these few membership libraries receive similar treatment. I have previously advocated for a postage stamp honoring public libraries. The postcard of the Redwood Library shown above is also a Tuck postcard which I discussed in a previous post.
Miss “Public Libraries” Mary Eileen Ahern
6 days ago