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The Providence Athenaeum


By Katy Killilea

What is that thing you’ve been hearing friends rave about but haven’t yet investigated? Until recently, for me, it was joining the Providence Athenaeum. And the raving friends were right. I’m so glad we joined.

The Athenaeum is the city’s private library, located on Benefit Street, right across from the courthouse. It is a drop-dead gorgeous building filled, of course, with books (everything from hot off the presses to too rare to touch without an appointment), comfortable places to sit, every good-quality magazine you could want (not a Ladies Home Journal or Maxim in sight), and more DVDs than you can shake a stick at. Upstairs in the stacks, you might notice several weary and bespectacled researchers working diligently on what must be their dissertations. However, no one under the age of eight is allowed upstairs, so it’s unlikely you and your brood would disrupt anything too serious.

The children’s room is heavenly, with thoughtfully selected picture books and chapter books, books on CD, and an overflowing basket of soft puppets, heavy on the dinosaurs. Here you can easily find every kids’ book you’ve been wanting and find new authors and series to suit any child’s literary sensibility. The children’s librarian chooses truly enticing books, not just whatever crud is being heavily promoted. I did notice the Walter the Farting Dog books taking its rightful place among the other smart choices. There’s nothing stuffy about the collection.

Kids’ events, like pizza and movie nights or tooth-fairy box decorating are always happening, and a schedule can be found here.

Everyone working in the Athenaeum seems to have just emerged from a relaxing massage: they’re all serene and smiling and ready to help. I can’t say enough how at home we felt right away. I had a little fear that the Athenaeum would be a clubby or snobby place. It isn’t. And you do not need to be a member to go in and read and play with the puppets. Everyone is welcome!

Providence Athenaeum – 251 Benefit Street, Providence, RI 02903
(401) 421-6970
kids’ event calendar

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  • For about $15 a month you get access to books, films, wine, hors d’oeuvres, famous presenters, salons, pub quizzes, movie nights, many, many children’s events…I am paraphrasing the Board president’s newsletter here–but she makes a good point–“Don’t let the economic downturn put a crimp in your style”–join the Athenaeum!

  • I’m glad it sounds good to you–I hope new people will go and share their impressions and that experienced members will share their favorite things about the Athenaeum too!

    I should have emphasized more what a nice place it is just to be–to sit and read alone or with kids–the main benefit of membership is checking materials out, but the whole place is very friendly to members & non-members alike.

  • That sounds like heaven–we love to visit different libraries, and Will categorizes them based on their book and toy collections. “The one with the play food and the shark books or the one with the truck puzzles, Mom?”

    Worth a trip for sure!