02 September 2010

Worth Every Penny

While I may be a die hard cheap skate and devoted member of the Church of the Holy Thrift, there are times even I can admit that something is worth paying full freight. For a while, I've been kicking around the idea of an occasional, and by no means regular, series on this blog entitled "Worth Every Penny". The idea is to feature the rare instances where I endorse paying outright. After all, one of the points of being thrifty in the first place is to be able to shell out some cash when it really matters. So without further ado, the pilot installment:

Boston Athenaeum Membership

Clearly, anyone who writes and reads blogs is likely to be spending far too much time glued to the screen, looking at the internet and ruining his eye sight. I'm no exception. I do, however, love reading books, the printed kind, and amazingly I find time to do it. Aside from amassing an indecently large wardrobe, an ever expanding library of both books and music is my other crutch. I can't get enough. That's why I proudly hold membership at the Boston Atenaeum.

The Athenaeum is a membership library, one of the oldest in the country, founded in 1807. That may seem a bit snooty, but it isn't. True, you have to pay a fee each year to gain access, but it's actually pretty cheap and anyone can join. For as much as you might think this place reeks of old Boston Brahmin exclusivity (note:the video in the link was filmed at the Athenaeum), it actually welcomes all comers with open arms on a truly equal basis. The only attitude you'll encounter here is a love of books and a reverence of knowledge.

The architecture of the building is stunning. The staff couldn't be friendlier or more helpful, and the collection is beyond description. Every time I set foot in the place, I immediately wish I didn't have to be somewhere else later. I could get lost in there. Besides all that, they not only have a wonderful childrens room, but they actually welcome the little ones. Most places I can think of that look like that room up there in the photo can get pretty prickly when it comes to kids. Hell, I get attitude at a certain Salvation Army over my children.

I frequently will browse the catalog online, pick out a few things, and call the cirulation desk to request they send them down for me to pick up. This way,I can just pop in with the kids, get my books and go. They are always very accomodating. A while back, I requested the memoirs of Giuseppe Garibaldi, published in 1863. The copy they lent me was an original, from 1863. They didn't bat an eye at letting it into my hand for 60 days. They're good like that.

Today, I had the rare chance to get in there alone. When this happens, I like to pick a topic or two to think about, then find that corner of the library and just wander. I spent an hour in the art and architecture room down in the basement, just browsing books on averything from Gothic churchbuilding techniques to Pier Luigi Nervi.

Sartorially speaking, I can think of few places better to wear a J.Press blazer with khakis and a repp tie. In the members only reading room on the top floor, there's always a few Ivy League octagenarians reading the newspaper in tattered old sack suits and club striped ties, frayed at the point of course. Fantastic.

I must be honest an tell you that my own membership came free, a stroke of good fortune for which I will be forever thankful. That story deserves it's own post someday. But if my membership ever ran out, I'd pay to renew it without a second thought. A love and respect of this venerable temple of knowledge is a gift, one I plan to pass on to my children.

Associate membership is $115 for individuals, $175 for the whole family. I'll bet many of you pay at least that much per month for internet and cable. It is said that we live in the information age. For the cost of a months internet, you can have a years access to a wealth of information the likes of which your computer will never be able to provide.

It's worth every penny.


Anonymous said...

How nice. Nicer yet was when the iconic Benjamin Franklin initiatiated and popularized the first Free Public library. How American, no?

Giuseppe said...

Not knocking the public library. But the collection here is beyond anything available in any of the public libraries I frequent. It's a special place and I love it.

Ben Franklin was a member, by the way.

Main Line Sportsman said...

Can one pay a day/guest fee if only in town for a few days? I have never heard of this joint...but it sounds wonderful...type of place I love. I would like to get in there when I am next in Boston.

Anonymous said...

I think my heart skipped a beat looking at the picture of that library! I love books, love books! (Much to my Hubby's chagrin, he is not a reader). Public libraries are nice, but these days (at least the one by my house) the public library is small, half of the space is taken up by computers(!) and they are sterile and white and just.... Well, needless to say I go in, I get my books and leave. Now the Athenaeum looks like the kind of library I would never, ever want to leave! Well worth the price of membership.

Anonymous said...

How about the MIT library? It's free, opened to the public and our collection is not too shabby. I also think you can go to the Harvard library too, even if you are not enrolled (visitor's pass).

Giuseppe said...


I know you can visit as a guest when accompanied by a member. Not sure how it works otherwise, but I'm sure they'd be glad to explain their policy over the phone. The ggod folks that work there are very helpful.


My local public library is a great place too, but it is downright tiny. The Boston Public Library is also a venerable institution with an impressive and daunting collection as well. Unfortunately, being located in the middle of the city, it is also a popular hang out for drug addicts and vagrants.The men's bathroom is always full of empty liquor bottles and guys taking spongebaths in the sink, and the courtyard is frequently poulated by sleeping drunks. Too bad, really. It's worth the money just to avoid the seediness.

Giuseppe said...

Can't check books outof the university libraries. Besides, Athenaeum is also a good excuse for an afternoon trip to the city every now and then.

TRVS said...

What a beautiful library...what a wonderful gift to be given! Jealous you had a day there to yourself! We have The Providence Athenaeum, but I would love to see Boston's.

Anonymous said...

Don't you need a recommendation from an existing member to get in?

Mark said...

Oh yes, the Athenaeum is a brilliant place. I was introduced to it many years ago when I was working at an author event for the Globe Corner Bookstore, and through a stroke of financial good fortune, I was able to afford a membership for a year. I wish I'd been able to maintain it, but I fell on harder times, and then moved away from Boston for several years. I'm back on a tight budget again, but I'd love to be able to rejoin the Athenaeum.


Giuseppe said...


Maybe in the old days, but these days they're pretty welcoming. Just fill out the application. They do check references, but it's mostly to make sure you're the kind of person who can be trusted with rare old things.

NCJack said...

The "Worth Every Penny" idea is great. I'm pretty cynical concerning value-for-money, but I'm tending to trust your judgement...so far, anyway(smiley here)

Unknown said...

That last paragraph brings up the feelings of guilt i get when i think how much more of a productive member of society i could be without the internet of television.