Yesterday evening, I attended a talk & tour of the New York Society Library hosted by the NY Librarians Meetup group. The NYSL was founded in 1754, before public libraries were instituted, and charged a membership fee. Today, it is still one of only 16 subscription libraries left in the United States.
The Library was initially located in the old City Hall, but as the city expanded it's moved five times, and currently occupies a 1917 Italian townhouse on 79th Street and Madison Avenue. It served as the first Library of Congress.
The Library has had many famous patrons over the years including George Washing, John Jay, Herman Melville and Henry David Thoureau. Additionally, the Library has had remarkable collections donated to them (a small sample of which can be found here. Among the items they have in their archives is the original Library charter, signed by King George III, and a work on Greek Mythology by Bocaccio dating back to 1497.
The library currently hold over 300,000 volumes, contains a children's floor, and regularly sees its programming events filled up. Funded through endowments, giving drives, and donations, it supports an active, vibrant community. Prominent writers continue to use the Library's reading rooms to do work.
The Library is hosting an exhibit titledEdith Wharton's New York City: A Backward Glance through the end of the year. This exhibit is open to the general public.