Library Privileges

How to see America’s largest private library—and its art

5790241557_3a596fc837_bPhoto: Boston Public Library

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pen to members only, the private Boston Athenaeum allows visitors for tours during limited hours if they have made advance reservations. What isn’t widely known is that the first floor and gallery of this largest membership library in North America are open at any time, including part of an art collection so valuable—with works by John Singer Sargent and Gilbert Stuart, and a bust of George Washington from Thomas Jefferson’s dining room at Monticello—that it formed the nucleus of the Museum of Fine Arts.

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One of the oldest cultural institutions in America, the Boston Athenaeum has amassed 750,000 books since it was founded in 1807, from George Washington’s personal library to the world’s largest collection of Confederate books and pamphlets.

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