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A Library Frozen In Time

At the Young Men’s Institute Library in New Haven, Connecticut hearing “shhhhhhhhhh” would be quite appropriate. You see, this gem of a place tucked into the downtown area of the Elm City is the state’s oldest living literary institution and one of the last remaining membership libraries in North America. Who knew? Well I didn’t, but I’m about to tell you all about this wonderfully cozy back-in-the-day place.

My tour guide was Maryann Ott. Ott was brought on board by the trustees of The Insitute Library to develop a new following for this amazing place. It was founded in 1826, by six young men, but it was not until 1878 that it found it’s permanent home at 847 Chapel Street. As the decades went on women were brought on, but they had their section, and the men had theirs.

The place is truly frozen in time, I would say maybe 1930’s or 1940’s era. There are books in this place that are probably priceless such as writings on the Great Flood of 1936 and tons of out-of-print books about world notables. This library of course has the  card catalog system with cards written in hand, some beautifully, going back to when it was founded, can you imagine that? There are directories, now known as phone books, that date to the early 1800’s. At The Institute Library you get over-the-phone service, and if you need a book they will send it right out to you thru the mail. This is business done the old fashioned way. You just have to see it to believe it, cozying up here with a book, well it’s a wonderful experience.

There are three floors, but the first is the only working space right now. The second floor was once upon a time a place for children, didn’t even get to what is on the third floor. The building still has crank-open open ceiling windows, and the light fixtures throughout, all vintage. If the walls could only talk.

You have to have a membership here to be able to come in and check out books, you can do that for the bargain price of $25.00. It is the hope in the very near future that lots of folks will begin to know about this gem in New Haven, that it will become a kind of “salon” where talks are given and events are held.

Oh, by the way, you won’t find the Dewey Decimal system for its 28,000 books, no siree, it has a system all it’s own that was developed by William Borden. In 1910 Borden took his way of cataloging books to India, and the whole country embraced it. So that makes only two places in the world, New Haven and the country of India, with this strange cataloging, pretty cool right?

You’ll find plenty of books on the state of Connecticut that go oh so far back, but you’ll also find brand new books too.

Spread the word about this wonderful place and become a member. Get involved to help ensure that this vintage library keeps its place in a modern day world, it’s important.

Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Ann Nyberg


  1. Posted January 13, 2011 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    This is amazing. I LOVE old libraries and museums that have been left untouched (even though, from a practical point of view, I rely on my local one having all mod cons and online listings).

    • Annie Mame
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Perdita, it looks like you are across the pond, thanks so much for reading the blog. I just went to yours and I LOVE it, very cool. Don’t give up on the old libraries, this one will soon have modern computers too but it will be the old with the new which I think is the way forward for everything. Take good care!

  2. Maryann Ott
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Dear Ann,
    This is wonderful!!!! I can’t believe you were able to write all that from our visit together. You must have a photographic memory or supernatural powers! The pictures are FABULOUS and really capture the beauty of the library. How great you are to take the time to create this blog-story and share it with your fans. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!

  3. Greg pepe
    Posted January 15, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Ann: Thanks for profiling our wonderful library on your blog. For those of us who know about and use the library, we know what a treasure it is. We hope that 2011 is a breakour year for the library, … so keep your ears and eyes open for new programs and new ways to access the place. At the end of the 1800s and early 1900s, the library was the place where one came to find the news of the day, to talk with friends, and to read things of interest. More importantly, it was the place where face-toface dialogue could occur on topics of the participant’s choosing. We hope to create opportunities to do the same thing today. It is my firm conviction that electronic communication facilitates the erosion of civility in our society, and perhaps in a very small way, the library can help us preserve a place where civility reaigns again. Greg Pepe, President, Institute Library

    • Annie Mame
      Posted January 15, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Dear Greg,
      Keep me in the loop about how I might help with your plans. In the mean time I’ll keep getting the word out.

  4. Valerie Morrell
    Posted January 15, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Permalink


    Thank you for showing us yet another Connecticut Gem.

  5. Annie Mame
    Posted January 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Valerie, this was especially cool, thank you.

  6. Posted January 19, 2011 at 4:03 am | Permalink

    Nice post. The library sounds great. I think it’s cool they have their own catalog system. This post makes me want to check it out next time I’m in New Haven.

  7. Posted January 19, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Christopher, don’t even think about missing this place, as I’ve said it is truly frozen in time and it’s wonderful!

  8. Sue Reber
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    Be still my library heart! This reference librarian loves it!

    • auntiemame40
      Posted February 1, 2011 at 1:57 am | Permalink

      Sue, you found me! The place is to die for and when you get up here again we will make a bee-line for this wonderful place that while a bit hidden is starting to get out there. You will just be inspired by what is there.

  9. Becky
    Posted February 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Ann, thank you for the nice article about the library! it was very informative and MaryAnn was a great guide. we’ve have gotten alot of new members since the first of the year.
    we hope that continues !!

    thanks, Becky

    • Ann Nyberg
      Posted February 21, 2011 at 1:57 am | Permalink

      I am so thrilled to hear this news!

  10. Posted February 26, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Awesome! I just learned this library is one of the locations available to artists participating in an upcoming exhibition, Library Science. Great info and photos!

    • Ann Nyberg
      Posted February 26, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      It is the greatest place in the world smack dab in the inner city, and most people walk by and don’t even know it’s there. So glad you now know about it.