American Membership Libraries Group 2021
The last time the library directors of the American Membership Libraries Group met in person was 2019 at the newly reopened Center for Fiction in Brooklyn. Since then, we've all had a lot to deal with, to put it mildly. So it was with particular joy that some of us gathered again in person (with the rest by Zoom) on October 27 & 28 at the St. Louis Mercantile Library (founded 1846.)
The American Membership Libraries Group was founded in 1991 as a support group for the 19 (or so) membership libraries remaining in the United States. Annual in-person meetings keep us up to date on what is happening at each of our respective institutions and give us the opportunity to share our challenges and use the group as a sounding board. Since the beginning of the pandemic, however, we've been meeting more frequently - bi-weekly on Zoom - which has been enormously valuable as we've been navigating the trials of the past year and a half. This year's annual gathering was our first ever hybrid meeting, with the directors of 5 libraries representing in person (St. Louis, Boston, Cincinnati, Lanier Library, and NYSL) and 11 others on Zoom. This year, we also welcomed the Library Company of Philadelphia (the first membership library) back into the fold. As with prior annual meetings, our discussions primarily focused on fundraising, membership trends, governance, and building projects, with particular emphasis on how the pandemic has affected all of these areas. We're also all excited about continuing to collaborate on and share events and programming among our institutions.
It was especially significant for the St. Louis Mercantile Library to host the meeting this year, as the library is celebrating its 175th anniversary. Many thanks to Executive Director John Neal Hoover, Curator of Art Julie Dunn-Morton, Aubash Collections Access Manager Alyssa Persson (shown in the sidebar opening up the rare book vault), and Executive Assistant Brittney West, and all the Merc staff for arranging a wonderful visit. Those of us attending the meeting in-person were treated to a docent-led tour of the Mercantile's excellent exhibition A Nation, A City, & Its First Library: Americana as a Way of Life at the St. Louis Mercantile Library for 175 Years, chock full of fascinating artifacts (books, manuscripts, maps, prints, artwork) representing the collection's strengths in Americana. If you find yourself in St. Louis, I urge you to see it (the exhibition will run through 2022) because there is truly something for everyone here. For those of you who can't make it to St. Louis, check out the exhibition catalog in our collection.
John Faherty, Executive Director of the Mercantile Library in Cincinnai, and Leah Rosovsky, Stanford Calderwood Director of the Boston Athenaeum at the St. Louis Mercantile Library on the campus of University of Missouri, St. Louis.
Entrance to the multi-floor exhibition A Nation, A City, and Its First Library: Americana as a Way of Life at the St. Louis Mercantile Library for 175 Years.
Two of my favorite things from the exhibition: a broadside announcing an exhibition of an "interesting animal" (this is actually a postcard of the broadside in the exhibition) and one of several exhibition cases displaying a number of the library's many books on each state. Here are those representing New York and New Jersey's. Do you recognize some of these in our own collection (hint: stack 1.)
One of the most impressive collections in the St. Louis Mercantile Library's vault is the Dr. Helen E. Nash Collection of African-Americana and Africana.
And no visit to St. Louis is complete without a visit to the Gateway Arch, a view of the mighty Mississippi River, and a walk through the St. Louis Public Library's Great Hall.