Sunday, December 27, 2009

New York Librarians Meetup Group Visits the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction

Nestled between 5th and Madison Ave, just a few blocks from Grand Central Station and New York City’s “Diamond District” is one of the oldest cultural institutions in America--The Mercantile Library Center for Fiction. Currently known as the Center for Fiction, the Mercantile Library was founded in 1820, before the implementation of the Dewey Decimal System, and situated on Wall Street. At its present location on East 47th Street, The Mercantile Library Center for Fiction is a beautiful eight floor town house which was built in 1932. And it continues to devote itself “to the vital art of fiction” and encourages people to read, value and support fiction as well as celebrate and its creation and enjoyment.1

The Center for Fiction was founded by merchants and their clerks before the advent of public libraries. By the mid-nineteenth century, it was thriving as one of the foremost cultural institutions in the United States, with an extraordinary collection of books in the humanities, and a popular lecture program that featured such renowned speakers as William Makepeace Thackeray, Frederick Douglass, and Mark Twain. The Center offered classes on many subjects and was considered a meeting place for social and educational pursuits.2 (Image Below: from the New-York Commercial Advertiser November 2, 1820)

Meetup members listened intently as, Head Librarian and NY Librarians Meetup member, Brenda Wegener provided a delightful tour of the Mercantile Library. The group toured the beautiful Reading Room, stacks, Writers' Studio and learned about the Library’s circulating fiction and nonfiction collections as well as the special collections. The busts located throughout the Reading Room and first floor bookshop were dressed with Santa hats in celebration of the holiday season. These whimsical accents brought a welcoming touch of Christmas cheer to the Center for Fiction.

The Library's Literary Fiction Collection contains over 75,000 titles published in the past century as well as a nineteenth century collection of about 22,000 titles, which are currently in storage. The Library holds approximately 20,000 non-fiction titles, primarily relating to literary subjects. Additionally, the Library keeps a large collection of literary periodicals and newspapers which are located in the Reading Room.3 During our tour of the Library’s Reading Room, Wegener noted that the Library has a particularly strong mystery and detective collection and has never weeded a mystery novel from the collection. She also explained that the Mercantile Library has no Sci-Fi or Westerns-- the Westerns were donated to Texas A&M University. (The Mercantile Library does not collect genre novels other than mystery and suspense.) The Library's collection is entirely in English.4

Recently, the Library acquired many highly regarded works of international fiction in translation and continues to purchase the best in fiction. Each year, the Library adds about 1,000 new fiction titles.5 The Mercantile Library Center for Fiction receives financial support through national endowments, grants, private and public donations as well as through memberships and the sale of books. Members of the Library enjoy such privileges as book-borrowing, discounts for all classes, reading groups, books and merchandise. In addition, the Library now has an online catalog of all its acquisitions since 1991. Books published before 1991 are accessible from their card catalog. What’s more “Books by Mail” members can select up to six books monthly from the online catalog and receive their requests directly by mail. Moreover, “The Center for Fiction library now has nearly 2,000 downloadable eAudiobooks through Net Library which members can download for a 3 week period.” 6

Through their expanding website and ever-growing array of creative programs, internships and events (i.e. book signings, meet the author, lectures and workshops) the Center for Fiction “seeks to serve the reading public, to build a larger audience for fiction, and to create a place where readers and writers can share their passion for literature.”7

Works Cited:
1. The Center for Fiction. (n.d.). Mission & history. In About the Center for Fiction. Retrieved December 12, 2009, from http://
2. Ibid.
3. The Center for Fiction. (n.d.). The collection. Retrieved December 12, 2009, from

4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. The Center for Fiction. (n.d.). Mission & history. In About the Center for Fiction.
Retrieved December 12, 2009, from