Tour the Young Men's Institute Library

New Haven's Best-Kept Secret

New Haven, Connecticut

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The Young Men's Institute Library, located on the second floor above a Chapel Street Jewelry store, is one of New Haven's best-kept secrets. Founded in 1826, the library is one of the last remaining membership lending libraries left in America.

Long the democratic heart of intellectual life in 19th-century New Haven, the library hosted such distinguished speakers as Henry Ward Beecher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dicken, and Frederick Douglass. After the establishment of the New Haven Free Public Library in 1887, the Institute Library began to withdraw from the public life of the city and focus primarily on expanding and circulating its collection of general-interest and popular literature.  The librarian during this period, William A. Borden, made use of the Institute Library as a laboratory in which to experiment with new library technologies and practices.  Within months of hisinitial engagement, he developed a new classification system for the library's collection, which is unique to the Institute Library and remains in use today, together with Borden's original card catalog. 

In 1910, Borden accepted an invitation from the progressive Indian prince, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III of Baroda, to create and direct a free public library system for the people of his state.  Following the departure of Borden for India, the Institute Library turned further inward, prompting the Centennial Committee in 1926 to comment on its diminished role in the community: "We are practically a circulating library with certain features and privileges of a club, marking time, as it were, till we see the light of a real purpose, some real niche in the city which we can fill."

The fortunes and membership of the library rose and fell in the decades that followed, but the library persisted, preserving its historical character throughout and always maintaining the most affordable possible annual fee for members.

Join Atlas Obscura co-founder Joshua Foer and library Executive Director Will Baker for an exclusive tour of this special New Haven institution. 


01:00 PM to 02:00 PM
Eastern Time (US & Canada)
Attendance limit


Young Men's Institute Library
847 Chapel Street
New Haven, Connecticut, USA