Reading New England: The Institute Library (guest post)

Reading New England

For a final Reading New England feature, I asked Chris of WildMoo Books whether she might like to contribute one of her wonderful library posts. Chris is a Connecticut resident, but she also travels far and wide, and wherever she goes she likes to take pictures of interesting libraries and share them with us. Please be sure to check them out here!

For her guest post, Chris picked the Institute Library in New Haven, Connecticut — a place I’ve never heard of, but definitely want to visit now. Many thanks to Chris for this virtual tour of one of New England’s hidden treasures.


The Institute Library
Guest post by Chris of WildMoo Books

When Lory invited me to write a library post for her Read New England challenge I immediately said yes. There are so many fantastic libraries in New England—from charming small community libraries to powerhouse city libraries to Ivy League college libraries. There was no lack of inspiration, rather the challenge was to narrow down the options. I kept coming back to The Institute Library of New Haven, CT.

Founded in 1826, The Institute Library is one of the last remaining membership libraries in America. It also has its own classification system developed by one of its early librarians, William A. Borden. You can read about the library’s history and current events at their website:

The mission of the Institute Library is to fulfill its historical purpose of “mutual assistance in the attainment of useful knowledge” for its members and the New Haven community at large through literature, civil discourse, and the arts.

I hope you’ll enjoy this short look into The Institute Library.


The Institute Library had several homes since its founding in 1826 until this four story brick building was erected for the Institute in 1878. The ground floor is a retail space (currently for rent).


The entrance to the library. Members and guests ring a bell and are buzzed in via intercom.


The staircase leading from the front door up to the library are lit via transparent kickboards on the staircase directly above which gets direct sunlight from large windows facing the street. An elevator installation is one of the library’s upcoming improvement projects.


Through doors at the top of the stair members are greeted by a display of the library’s newest acquisitions. Behind this is the circulation desk. Notice the card catalog to the right.


When you turn to the right from here there are two displays of recent acquisitions, one for fiction, one for nonfiction.


Turn to the right one more time and you’re facing the front of the library. The tall windows provide excellent lighting. In the daytime lights are not needed for reading in this room.

Comfy reading chairs in front of the windows offer an excellent place to curl up with a good book.


Looking from the front of the library toward the back. The bookcase on the left is a complete set of the Library of America editions.


A periodicals spinner near the front windows. Notice the stairs in the background and their transparent kickboards—these light the staircase below.


Some of the early librarians who served the Institute Library.


The library’s card catalog stands tall in the reference section, just across from the circulation desk.



Looking through the card catalog is a joy, so many graceful and diverse handwriting styles to admire from various hands.



Taken from the middle area of the library. The reference section is to the left and library offices to the right.


Standing in the stacks looking toward the back of the library.


In the stacks. Each aisle has its own light with a long pull. Members turn on lights as needed.


The back room where events take place and board meetings are held. This table has been at the library since it opened. The door to the right leads to a small lounge and the bathroom.


The lounge features comfortable reading chairs and there’s also a writing desk in a small alcove just across from the chairs.


There are several skylights in the building. Notice the gears. The writing above the doorway reads: “instructions: create what you long for.”


A reproduction of an original bookplate from the Mechanic Library of New Haven, 1792.


If you’re near New Haven or find yourself passing through, be sure to stop and visit The Institute Library. It is a vibrant historical treasure that continues to play an important role in the literary life of its members and New Haven.

The Institute Library
847 Chapel Street
New Haven, CT 06510 |
(203) 562-4045