Business & Career Center

Business Library - Local History & Photos

Exterior, c. 1960s Interior view, 2010 Interior view, 2010 Brooklyn Heights and Business Library, 1966 The interior Business Library's predecessor, the Mercantile Library at 197 Montague, ca. 1860s The Business Library's predecessor, the Mercantile Library at 197 Montague, ca. 1860s
Branch History

In 1852, a group of Brooklyn's prominent citizens established an institution where young men might assemble "as well for instruction as for that innocent relaxation, which the wear and tear of mercantile life so imperiously demands." The first president of the Brooklyn Athenaeum, John Taylor, conveyed this mission in the Athenaeum's first annual report. The two-story building with a lecture hall was built on the northeast corner of Atlantic Avenue and Clinton Street.

The Athenaeum was established by Brooklyn's respected elders. In 1857, a group of young men established the more practical Brooklyn Mercantile Library Association of the City of Brooklyn, which placed less emphasis on literature and philosophy than the Athenaeum. The Mercantile Library prospered on the second floor of the Athenaeum building for 10 years.

In 1869, four years after the Civil War, the Mercantile Library and the Athenaeum consolidated their collections and moved into a new building at 197 Montague Street, called the Montague Street Branch Library. The completed structure cost $227,000. The second floor of the new building was designated for business reference and named The Business Reference Department. Library membership cost two dollars annually for an individual or five dollars annually for a family, or $50 or $100 for life membership.

The Mercantile Library name was changed to the Brooklyn Library in 1878.

By 1943, the Business Reference Department was called "The Business Library." Still on the second floor of the Mercantile Building, the space was inadequate to meet the public's need. In 1957, the City approved the construction of a permanent Business Library and "circulating library," which became the Brooklyn Heights Branch, at 280 Fulton Street (now named 280 Cadman Plaza West).

In 1960, the 197 Montague Street building was razed to make way for the Brooklyn Union Gas Company. The libraries moved into temporary quarters at 141 Livingston Street until the new $2.5 million library building was complete.

The Business Library opened to the public on June 1, 1962, at its new and current location, 280 Cadman Plaza West. The Business Library occupied the southern reference room and the Brooklyn Heights branch occupied the north reference room and the small second floor. "The Library is as close as your telephone" was the slogan that sold free library services to thousands of businessmen in the community.

After 25 years in the new building, the Business Library and the Brooklyn Heights Branch were serving close to 2,000 people a day. With such success and the growing demands for space, the need for expansion was clear. In 1991, Borough President Howard Golden allocated $5 million to expand the building, creating a full second floor for the Brooklyn Heights Branch. The two libraries shared temporary quarters at 148 Pierrepont Street for two years while renovation of the current building took place. The building reopened in 1993 with an additional 6,000 square feet, including a new auditorium.

What started on Atlantic Avenue in 1852 for a fee, continues to grow 150 years later for free in downtown Brooklyn, the borough’s business, financial and civic district. The Business Library serves nearly 200,000 inquiries a year by phone and in person. Thousands of small business owners, entrepreneurs, students, job seekers, investors and company employees use the business library to build their financial and personal success. The Business Library partners with dozens of business assistance organizations to offer special programs and networking opportunities and has given foundational support to many new and developing businesses.