Would You Join a Private Library?

Jeff O'Neal

CEO and co-founder

Jeff O'Neal is the executive editor of Book Riot and Panels. He also co-hosts The Book Riot Podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @thejeffoneal.

I don’t know what it is exactly, but there something to getting out of the house for a while to read, work, or write. Coffeeshops have their annoyances (cost, crowds, no books, and noise), as do some public libraries.

So what if there were private libraries you could join?

Such things do exist, and in fact pre-date pubic libraries as we know them by hundred years in the US. The first American private library was founded by Benjamin Franklin (who couldn’t walk three blocks without inventing something) in Philadelphia in 1713. Members paid a subscription fee which went to the maintenance of the building and the acquisition of new books.

As funding for public libraries ramped up in the 19th Century, most private libraries folded, but there are still a dozen or so left in America, including The General Society Library in New York City. (pictures below)

I went to an event there several years ago, and the idea of joining has always intrigued me, though it’s too far from where I live to be workable. The cost is remarkably low ($50 a year) and the space is quite lovely. The collection itself is about 100,000 volumes, though what attracts me more than anything is the peace, quiet, and community. Members often donate their own books to the library as well, and I have to admit I would love to donate my books to a library like this, knowing they would be there for my use. (Related, I would also like to have a shared library with a group of fellow book lovers. In New York, space is an issue, but it would be cool if like a dozen people went in and rented a space where they all kept and shared books. Ok, dreaming over).

So what do you think? Does this appeal to you?


Reading room of The General Society Library



Most of the collection is still searchable only by card catalog, though slowly being digitized.



Street view of The General Society Library.