Library Lounging: St. Louis’ Famous Libraries

Wednesday March 4, 2015

By Explore St. Louis Guest

Cold winter is made for settling down indoors with a good book from one of St. Louis’ fabled libraries. Libraries whose collections encourage one to linger, lounge and explore. Collections that include books, rare art, maps and artifacts, which are often exhibited and spotlighted during seasonal events - perfect for the winter weary seeking warm places to enjoy a good read while discovering hidden treasures beyond the library stacks.

St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri - St. Louis

Founded in 1846, The St. Louis Mercantile Library located within the Thomas Jefferson Library building on the campus of University of Missouri - St. Louis is the oldest library west of the Mississippi. More than a lending library and research center, the Mercantile is a depository for rare books, art and eclectic collections of artifacts and memorabilia that has made it one of the brightest jewels in St. Louis’ cultural crown.

The Mercantile’s rare books, manuscripts and art treasures provide a rich cultural diversity. Within its vaults are historic newspaper morgues to presidential letters to vintage maps. Among the Mercantile Library’s priceless rarities are John James Audubon’s Double Elephant Folio of Birds of America, Napoléon Bonaparte’s death ask, a Mississippi steamboat’s steering wheel and artwork produced by such renowned American artists as George Caleb Bingham, Thomas Hart Benton and Harriet Hosmer.

Another signature of the Mercantile is its exhibitions and lecture series. Current exhibitions include Mapping St. Louis History: An Exhibition of Historic Maps, Books, and Imagines Commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the Founding of St. Louis and Whistle Stops: Campaigning By Train. Exhibits are free and on display during regular library hours. Visitors can take an in-depth look around the Mercantile via its free docent led tours held Saturdays at 11 am and Sundays at 2pm.

Central Library – St Louis Public Library

The St. Louis Public Library system celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2015. Central Library, the SLPL downtown headquarters (1301 Olive Street), has remained a majestic masonry temple for the book and continues to serve as a cultural mecca as well as the epicenter for the 150th celebration. Central, which recently underwent an extensive two-year, 70-million dollar renovation offers visitors a variety of services to complement one’s experience within its palatial walls.

Open daily, visitors often choose to met in Central’s Great Hall, the gateway to the 4.6 million items found in its collection. The Great Hall itself is an architectural marvel featuring a high ceiling covered with ornately painted panels and eight massive early 1900-era polished bronze electrified chandleries.

From the Grand Hall one can peruse the stacks and display cases of the adjoining reading rooms. Surf the net in its computer commons or take the staircase or elevator to the third floor, home of Central’s Rare Books and Special Collections and its rotating exhibits as its current display, A la carte: A Serving of St. Louis Menus. If more lively activities are desired plan your visit during on of Central’s special events as its Not So Quiet! Concert Series held within the auditorium.

Central Library docents will provide one walk-in tour each Monday beginning at 11:00 am. Central Library docents will continue to offer hourly tours each Saturday at 11, Noon and 1.

Other Bibliographic Hideaways

Peter H. Raven Library – Missouri Botanical Garden

Amateur gardeners to horticultural specialists can come to study the materials and displays housed at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Peter H. Raven Library, located on the fourth floor of the Monsanto Center (4500 Shaw Blvd). The library began with the personal collection of horticultural books owned by the Garden’s founder, Henry Shaw. Those first books became the literary seeds that enabled it grow and hold what is considered the most comprehensive repository of botanical literature in the world.

The Peter H. Raven Library does not circulate its holdings but visitors and scholars can explore and research its collections Monday through Friday 8:30am to 5pm. Among those holdings are the general collection and the special collection of the Garden’s archives and rare books that spans digitized herbarium specimens to a first edition printing of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center

The Missouri History Museum’s Library and Research Center could be considered St. Louis’ attic. Located within the historic 1927 Byzantine-style structure at 225 South Skinker, the Library and Research Center occupies the former home of the United Hebrew Temple and includes such celebrated collections Charles Lindbergh, the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the 1904 World’s Fair.

“ The Library and Research Center exists to house and store the artifacts of the Missouri History Museum, but it’s more than that,” said Chris Gordon, director of the library and its collections, noting how the collections reach beyond books and documents. “People can come to the Library and Research Center and access material in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise. Artifacts and other items, such as film or video from our media collection are also available to view. Visitors can make an appointment with a curator and actually come and look at these pieces. “

The Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center is open to the public for research and personal reading and exploration Tuesday through Fridays, noon to 5pm and Saturdays 10am to 5pm.

The Richardson Memorial Library – Saint Louis Art Museum

Art lovers and patrons of the St. Louis Art Museum have a haven for reading and learning located on its third floor of the south wing, the Richardson Memorial Library. Found within its archives are an extensive collection of books, periodicals, catalogues and artists files. Files that contain information on St. Louis area artists along with related newspaper clippings, exhibition announcements and biographical data.

Research librarians are available to assist visitors with requests for materials pertaining to the Museum’s archive collections and exhibitions. The Richardson Memorial Library is free to the public and open Tuesday through Fridays from 10 am to 5pm.

Guest Blogger Suzanne Corbett contributed to this blog.