The Providence Athenæum is an independent, member-supported library and cultural center located on Providence’s historic Benefit Street. Over its nearly 200 years of existence, the library has welcomed illustrious writers, spirited thinkers, and energetic community members through its doors to engage in reading, conversation, and debate. At its heart, the Athenæum encourages a love of reading and learning to all.
An athenæum is defined most broadly as an association for the advancement of learning. To quote Brown University President Francis Wayland’s remarks at the opening of the building in 1838, this organization exists to “provide the means for the universal distribution of knowledge.” Its lineage derives in equal measure from ancient European libraries and learning communities (the first organization called ‘Athenæum’ was founded by the Roman emperor Hadrian in about A.D. 133) and from early American ideals of self-reliance and community service.
Today it stands as a testament to the foresight and devotion of those who truly understand the power of the written word to inspire the mind and fire the imagination, and who understand the power of a physical space such as the Athenæum to draw people together to a common purpose—the enrichment of life and the engagement of the community.
In service of that mission, our library is and has always been open to the public, and all are encouraged to peruse the collections while inside. The vast majority of our programs, including our Friday night Salon series, are free and open to the public, and all are welcome to attend. Our Children’s Library offers an array of free events, story times, and quiet nooks in which to curl up and read. Those who wish to check out materials are encouraged to become members. Borrowing privileges are only one of the many benefits of membership. Membership fees help sustain this building, our collections, and our public mission.
We welcome visitors and members alike to come in to enjoy and be part of the Athenæum’s ongoing story!