The Mercantile Library Center for Fiction was founded in 1820 by merchants and their clerks before the advent of public libraries. By the mid-nineteenth century, it was thriving as one of the foremost cultural institutions in the United States, with an extraordinary collection of books in the humanities, and a popular lecture program that featured such renowned speakers as William Makepeace Thackeray, Frederick Douglass, and Mark Twain. The Library offered classes on many subjects and was considered a meeting place for social and educational pursuits. The Library currently focuses on collecting and lending fiction, both literary and popular, presenting literary programs for the general public, and renting low-cost space to writers and other literary organizations. It has developed one of the best collections of fiction in the United States and had benefited from six National Endowment for the Humanities grants for literary programming in the past ten years.