Membership Libraries Group

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The Membership Libraries Group is an organization of non-profit membership libraries in the U.S., formed in 1991.

Membership libraries are rare in the United States today. Although numerous in the 18th and 19th centuries, they declined after the American Civil War, when the free public library as we know it today developed.

A handful — as few as 16 and as many as 24, depending on classification — are known today and continue to thrive. Most are in older cities, where they may preserve architecturally significant buildings and hold special collections of rare books, prints, maps, photographs, and manuscripts of interest to scholars.


In April 1991, a support group for membership libraries was formed in New York, hosted by the Mercantile Library and its director, Harold Augenbraum. The twelve libraries in attendance chose the name Membership Libraries Group.

It was decided that the Membership Libraries Group (MLG) would meet annually in the fall, at a different member institution each year. Attendees at the meetings would exchange ideas and discuss issues especially pertinent to membership libraries. The twelve institutions in attendance, and their respective directors, were declared the Founding Members of the MLG. They were:

Other members were later added (see below). To be an active and voting Member, an institution must be financially self-supporting, can not be part of a larger organization, and must provide a circulating library to its members. Some libraries fill some, but not all, of these criteria; they may be accepted as Associate Members.

Conference locations[edit]

Today there are 16 full voting Members of the MLG and 5 Associate Members. Each one has celebrated more than 100 years in existence, with four having survived for 250 years or more. Since the founding meeting, MLG conferences have been held in the following locations:

  • 1991: Boston, MA
  • 1992: Philadelphia, PA
  • 1993: Cincinnati, OH
  • 1994: San Diego, CA
  • 1995: Charleston, SC
  • 1996: St. Louis, MO
  • 1997: New York, NY, The New York Society Library
  • 1998: Newport, RI
  • 1999: San Francisco, CA
  • 2000: Portsmouth, NH
  • 2001: Tryon, NC
  • 2002: Boston, MA
  • 2003: New York, NY, The Mercantile Library
  • 2004: Philadelphia, PA
  • 2005: St. Johnsbury, VT
  • 2006: Salem, MA
  • 2007: San Diego, CA
  • 2008: Newport, RI
  • 2009: Charleston, SC
  • 2010: Cincinnati, OH
  • 2014: Philadelphia, PA
  • 2015: San Diego, CA
  • 2016: San Francisco, CA
  • 2017: Portsmouth, NH
  • 2018: Charleston, SC

Current members[edit]

  • Athenaeum Music & Arts Library founded 1899
  • The Athenaeum of Philadelphia founded 1814
  • The Boston Athenaeum founded 1807
  • The Charleston Library Society founded 1748
  • The Institute Library founded 1826
  • The Lanier Library founded 1890
  • The Mechanics'Hall/MCMA Library founded 1815
  • The Mechanics' Institute Library, San Francisco founded 1854
  • The Mercantile Library, Cincinnati founded 1835
  • The Mercantile Library Center for Fiction founded 1820
  • The New York Society Library founded 1754
  • The Portsmouth Athenaeum founded 1817
  • The Providence Athenaeum founded 1836
  • Redwood Library & Athenaeum founded 1747
  • The Salem Athenaeum founded 1810
  • Timrod Literary and Library Association founded 1897
Associate Members
  • The General Society Library founded 1820
  • The Library Company of Philadelphia founded 1731
  • The Minneapolis Athenaeum founded 1866
  • St. Johnsbury Athenaeum founded 1871
  • The St. Louis Mercantile Library Association founded 1846
  • Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum, founded 2015