Just as a museum is a place for the muses who inspire art, so an athenæum is a place for Athena, the goddess of wisdom who inspires intellectual pursuits.
The Boston Athenæum was founded in 1807 by members of the Anthology Society, literary individuals who began with a plan to have a reading room but then expanded their vision to include a library encompassing books in all subjects in English and foreign languages, a gallery of sculptures and paintings, collections of coins and natural curiosities, and even a laboratory. This ambitious design has evolved over the past two hundred years with some changes in focus (i.e. there is no chemistry lab) but remaining true to the ideal expressed in our seal, chosen in 1814: Literarum fructus dulces, sweet are the fruits of letters.
The Boston Athenæum’s rare and circulating books reflect the collecting interests of the Library as it has narrowed its focus from being encyclopedic in the 19th century to its current focus on the humanities and its large, historic collection of art includes paintings, sculpture, prints, photographs, and decorative arts. The Boston Athenæum celebrated its bicentennial in 2007.
The Henry Long Room and the Bow Room, both on the first floor of the Boston Athenæum at 10 ½ Beacon Street, are available for rental for individual and corporate functions. The Athenæum’s unique atmosphere makes a splendid setting for corporate presentations, private dinners, receptions, and the like. These rooms have a capacity of 75 people for a seated event and 130 people for a reception. To avoid conflicting with the institution's normal operations, spaces are available for rental most evenings after 5:30 p.m. and on Sundays. The Athenæum also offers a full range of state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment for lectures, music, and video presentations. We regret that we cannot accommodate wedding ceremonies or receptions. Please note that event-planning companies must be vetted in advance by the Events Department.
Children's Library: The Children’s Library serves the children of Athenæum members from their earliest days through young adulthood. Located on the first floor of the building, the Children’s Library contains classic and contemporary literature and fills two adjoining spaces that are designed to appeal to novice and more sophisticated readers respectively. The Children’s Librarian creates age-appropriate suggested reading lists for children. For younger readers, the Chris Library Preschool Room houses board books, picture books, and easy-reader classics and contemporary titles. It also features a listening center, an aquarium, and cozy places to read under the watchful gazes of the Children’s Library’s owl mascots. The C. A. Coolidge Young Readers Room has classics, works of non-fiction, and popular fiction. In addition to books, the Children’s Library offers magazines and audio books.
The mission of the Boston Athenæum is to serve its members, the broader community, and scholars throughout the world by preserving and augmenting its collections of books and art, by providing library services and cultural programs, and by preserving and enhancing the unique atmosphere of its landmark building.