About the Library
The Mercantile Library occupies the 11th and part of the 12th stories of The Mercantile Library Building in the heart of downtown Cincinnati and is one of nearly two-dozen surviving membership libraries in the United States. Since 1835, The Mercantile Library has continuously sought out dynamic lecturers and speakers, experts on a wide array of subjects—politics, art, literature, science, religion and more.
The collection contains over 80,000 volumes and covers a broad range of subjects, including contemporary fiction, non-fiction, classics, history, poetry, travel, and more.
In 1835 a group of young Cincinnati merchants started a library. They pooled their resources, books, and talents. Together, they prospered. The library grew. It collected works of art and hosted speakers and authors, including Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The Mercantile Library flourished as a cultural, intellectual, and literary center of its region. Following its destruction by fire in 1845, members of the library collected $10,000 to rebuild. In exchange they were granted a 10,000-year lease to its present site, 414 Walnut Street, where it lives today on the 11th and 12th floors of the Beaux-Arts Mercantile Library Building. As the library approaches 200 years, it continues to connect people with ideas through books, speakers, authors, and discussion groups, cultivating dialogue and debate. Today it is a place where readers, writers, artists, students, professionals, and creatives connect, work, and play.
At about 90,000 volumes, the Mercantile Library’s book collection covers a broad spectrum of works and subjects. It reflects 180 years of organic growth reflecting shifting interests, tastes, and influences. In the beginning, books were selected for their educational value by the merchants and clerks who sought reliable information and to supplement a lack of formal education. The First Catalog case, housed in the 12th story Lecture Hall, contains books that were part of the library’s first purchase and have survived two fires. Their spines offer a cross-section of early reading interests: titles seen to foster intellectual growth, works on philosophy, political theory, history, the classics, and biography.
Since 1835, The Mercantile Library has continuously sought out dynamic lecturers and speakers, experts on a wide array of subjects—politics, art, literature, science, religion, music and more. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Rabbi Isaac Wise, John Updike, David Halberstam, Seamus Heaney, Salman Rushdie, Robert Caro, David Brooks, Michelle Alexander, Julia Child, Sandra Cisneros, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Claudia Rankine are just some of the lecturers hosted by the Mercantile.
In 2017 we hosted Greg Hand, Josh Ritter, Nathan Hill, Ken Adelman, Amanda Dameron, Wesley Lowery, Chuck Klosterman, and R.T. Rybak. As of July 2018, the lineup has included Molly Wellmann, Steve Earle, Susan Orlean, Melissa Clark, Colson Whitehead, and Liza Mundy.
The Library’s Signature Events are annual lectures, each around a recurring theme. Free admission to Signature Events for Mercantile Library members is made possible by The George and Margaret McLane Foundation with additional support from the Scripps Howard Foundation.
Since 1835, The Mercantile Library has offered diverse and varied events. Today programs range from dynamic lecturers and speakers, experts on a wide array of subjects—politics, art, literature, science, religion– to yoga (for members), discussion groups, vocal and music performances, Writers’ Nights, and much, much more.
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