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inside view of The Mercantile Library in Cincinnati Ohio

Only in Ohio: The Mercantile Library

A bibliophile's dream resides on the 11th floor of the Mercantile Building in Downtown Cincinnati!

The Mercantile Library in Cincinnati

Only in Ohio: The Mercantile Library

By Heather Rader

Posted On: Apr 4, 2022

A feast for the senses with creaking floorboards, oversized arched windows allowing light to beautifully embrace the space, and comfortable reading spaces with inviting leather chairs encourages all things reading, writing, and thinking. The extensive book collection amongst the glass-floored stacks beckons to be explored. With decades of history, and a camaraderie for the love of learning the Mercantile Library welcomes visitors to embrace their inner bookworm.

set of leather chairs for reading at the mercantile library in Cincinnati Ohio

The Mercantile Library, a subscription library, was founded in 1835 by 45 young merchants who were seeking a resource for intellectual and moral self-improvement. Subscription libraries become popular after Benjamin Franklin founded The Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731. This subscription library was started with $1800 and 700 books. In the early days of the library, the members met in various places throughout the city as they struggled to build a sufficient membership that would pay for costs.

As the years passed, the influence of the library increased throughout the Queen City and the library found stability. Surviving the Civil War and two fires, in 1904, the Mercantile Library moved into its current residence, the Mercantile Library Building. The library has become one of the oldest-surviving institutions in the city.

rows of book stacks inside the mercantile museum in cincinnati ohio

With nearly 80,000 volumes, the book collection at the library includes print, e-books, and audiobooks on extensive subjects. The oldest book in the library's unique collection dates to 1614 and numerous rare works include a bound serial first set of Dickens and early editions by Harriett Beecher Stowe.

Alongside the unique book collection, the library's art collection, comprised of paintings and sculptures, is one of the oldest art collections in the city.

two leather chairs in front of rows of book stacks at the mercantile library in Cincinnati Ohio

The Mercantile Library is one of the few (less than 20) membership libraries still in operation in the United States. The public is welcome to visit the library for free, however, use of the library - checking out books, Wi-Fi use, working or studying is reserved for members only.

Since its founding, the Mercantile Library has sought lecturers and speakers on an array of subjects - Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William M. Thackery, Harriett Beecher Stowe, Toni Morrison, and Julia Child are just a few of the notable lecturers hosted by the library. Today, the library continues to provide signature events and diverse programs for the Cincinnati community.

For more arts & culture in Ohio, check out #OhioFindItHere at Ohio.org

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