Since its inception, the Providence Athenæum’s goal has been to acquire a collection reflecting the reading tastes of its membership, yet far more extensive than any individual member could hope to amass.
The foundation of the Special Collections was created from the combined libraries of the Providence Library Company (est. 1753) and the earlier Providence Athenæum (est. 1831) when they formed the current institution and merged their two collections and archives in 1836. As the library has aged, these once current titles dating to the mid-eighteenth century have become part of our Rare Book Collection, and as such, the collection mirrors the changing tastes of the membership over the past two-and-a-half centuries. The collection interests have remained consistently strong in the subjects of literature, history, biography, travel, the fine arts, and natural sciences.