Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Sad and True. 200 years of shared knowledge Salem Athenaeum’s model faces modern challenges

From: www.boston.com
“Once I get to know someone and their reading interests, I make direct recommendations as soon as they come in,’’ said Procious, director of the Salem Athenaeum, which celebrates its 200th anniversary with a fund-raiser on Saturday. “I’m cultivating the community if I get people excited about what they’re reading.’’

Since 1810, Salem-area residents have paid for subscriptions to the athenaeum - one of only about 16 membership libraries left in the United States - and have welcomed nonmembers to read free of charge. A 50,000-volume collection testifies to the membership’s evolving, idiosyncratic passions for topics from theology to botany and world travel.
Now as the athenaeum enters its third century, this historic institution faces sobering challenges to its venerable traditions. A $20,000 deficit is the athenaeum’s largest ever, representing 15 percent of its annual budget of about $130,000. Officers strive to recruit new subscribers, but persuading people to pay $90 per year per household for the privilege of checking out books and sustaining a Salem icon isn’t an easy sell in a tough economy. Meanwhile, rare volumes dating to the 16th and 17th centuries are gradually decaying in the absence of funds needed for preservation.

“They’re going to turn to dust,’’ said Francie King, president of the board of trustees. “We just can’t afford to do what it takes to preserve them, unless someone were to give us millions.’’