Libraries, with rows and rows of bookshelves, are havens for those seeking to satiate their thirst for information, entertainment and adventure. Cincinnati has a long history of libraries, dating back to the 18th century, with the first starting as specialized libraries of law, mercantile texts, or biology. Today, these sanctuaries offer a plethora of resources, ranging from the classic to the cutting-edge, from old leather covers to digital archives.
Beyond their vast and varied collections, libraries in Cincinnati offer a tranquil atmosphere, a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. They are also centers of community engagement and a reflection of the boundless potential of the human mind. Next time you have an afternoon off, pop by these five comprehensive libraries in Cincinnati and let your inquisitive self take over.
1. Downtown Main Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library
The Cincinnati Public Library currently has 41 locations throughout Hamilton County, but its main location is in downtown Cincinnati, which serves as its hub. It has been an integral part of downtown Cincinnati since 1874 at 629 Vine St, also known as Old Main, which stood there for 85 years. In 1955, the library relocated to its current location and the Old Main, what was once a Cincinnati historic gem, was unfortunately demolished.
The new building was designed by acclaimed Cincinnati architect, Woodie Garber, known for contemporary design and use of open space. According to the American Library Association, the Cincinnati Public Library is the 13th-largest overall library collection in the U.S, with 8,819,759 volumes held. You can still find its signature sculpture of stacked books greeting you outside the building. From fiction and large print to non-fiction and children’s books, the Cincinnati Public Library is your reliable go-to place to research, get inspired and read innumerable books, old and new.
📚 800 Vine Street
2. The Mercantile Library
The Mercantile Library’s history goes back to the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in America. In 1835 a group of young Cincinnati merchants started “Young Men’s Mercantile Library Association” which would contain mercantile books and texts and serve people of a particular class and social circle, particularly technical tradesmen. Throughout its 185 years of existence, it has seen many speakers in the likes of Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe and William M. Thackeray, and hosted countless book presentations and events.
Today, located on the 11th and 12th floors of the Beaux-Arts Mercantile Library Building, the library is open to all, is home to about 80,000 volumes and has the oldest public art collection in the city of Cincinnati, anchored by portrait busts. You can read fiction, travel and geography, non-fiction, and everything in between. Check out The First Catalog case, in the 12th story Lecture Hall and look for period books on philosophy, politics and trade. It’s definitely worth an afternoon visit!
📚 414 Walnut Street, 11th floor
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3. Hamilton County Law Library
The Law Library can be found on the sixth floor of the Hamilton County Courthouse. The current courthouse building, the 7th Hamilton County Courthouse, was constructed between 1915 and 1919. The fortress-looking exterior is made of New Hampshire granite and Bedford limestone in a Renaissance Revival style of architecture. It’s an impressive and impactful building, whose interiors add to the grandeur of its facade.
What immediately catches the eye upon entering the library’s main reading room, are the six pairs of green Italian marble columns. Shortly afterwards, you notice the stained glass windows bearing the names of the Library’s founders and other essential figures in the history of the law. Hamilton County Law Library boasts a collection exceeding 40,000 physical volumes, as well as online and microfiche materials. For anyone that dreams of becoming a lawyer or judge one day, the law library is the perfect place to do some legal research and awaken ideas of justice and liberty.
📚 1000 Main Street, Room 601
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4. Lloyd Library And Museum
The Lloyd brothers founded the library in the 1870s, because they were each investigating the fields of pharmaceutical chemistry and botanics, so they started collecting books primarily in these two areas. It was the combination of these two passions that provided the basis of the specialized library we see today as a stand-alone institution. Part of their success was due to the upsurge in eclectic medicine, which was very fashionable at the time.
Lloyd Library and Museum now contains over 150,000 volumes of monographs and serials, nearly 3,000 linear feet of archival manuscripts, and around 3,000 museum artifacts, on a variety of disciplines including natural history, medicine and visual arts. Despite its new location right down the street from City Hall, it still feels like a place stuck in time.
📚 917 Plum Street
5. Mary R. Schiff Library & Archives
Mary R. Schiff Library & Archives is the library and art collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum. It has an extensive collection of over 100,000 items spanning 6,000 years of artistic creativity, including decorative arts, fashion, and photography. Founded in 1881 as part of the museum, the archives also include letters from American artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Whether you’re an art student, art connoisseur or collector, or have always had curiosity about the human creative expression, you should add this library to your bucket list
📚 953 Eden Park Drive