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So Cincinnati: Mercantile Library

CINCINNATI (Joe Webb) -- Our world of technology, including smartphones and e-readers, may make you think of libraries as pieces of the past.

But studies show people are using libraries more than ever.  Cincinnati is one of only a handful of cities in the country to have a special kind of library.  "The Mercantile Library" dates back to a time when public libraries were rare.

You know you're entering a special place when you're, "Shhhhusssshed!" at the door by a pre-Civil War statue.  Tucked away on the top two floors of the building that bears its name, the Mercantile Library is an interesting read.  It's a library and a literary center.  So it's a place for people who like to read where they can meet other people who like to read and talk about books.

Founded in 1835, it's a throwback to a time before public libraries.  In most eastern cities, merchants and clerks organized and collected books to educate themselves.  Most were eventually gobbled up by public libraries but the mercantile library survived on its own.  And despite its name, is a not a business library.  It's a general interest collection.
           
$55 a year gets you a membership and all its privileges.  The biggest perks are the use of the space and the collection.  And  it's unique space.  The city's oldest, intact statuary collection looks over your shoulder as you read.  Glass floors hold up the original stacks.That are indexed with chalk markings. Newspapers and magazines are held in place for easy reading. Coats are hung on racks the library bought in the 1850's. 

Unlike most libraries, members can pack a lunch.  Membership also gets you a good seat for lectures from visiting authors.  The mercantile has hosted a few.

Everybody from Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe to Julia Child, John Updike to Seamus Heaney.
          
180 years gives you some names to drop.

The mercantile is always buying new books.  This is a book of new poetry by Stephen Phillips.  It was last checked out in February 1921.  But it's there for the member who wants it.  The mercantile has wi-fi and is growing its collection of e-books. 

If time was going to pass it by it would have already done that.  This library will be here for a long time thanks to a generous lease negotiated in 1840 by William Howard Taft's dad. 

"So for $10,000 up front advance payment the members got a 10,000 year lease on the space and any succeeding building and we've here ever since that," Albert Pyle, Mercantile Library Executive Director said.
      
And it will be a part of Cincinnati's literary fabric for another 9,820 years. 

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