The Nantucket Atheneum evolved from the Nantucket Mechanics Social Library and the Columbian Library Society, which were both founded on the island in the early 1820â€™s. These two social libraries joined forces in 1827 to become the Universal Library Association, which moved in 1833 to a renovated Universalist Church at the corner of Federal Street and Pearl Street. In 1834 the library was incorporated as the Nantucket Atheneum, a private subscription library with eighteen-year-old Maria Mitchell as its first librarian. The Great Fire of 1846 destroyed the original library building and virtually all of its 1,235 titles. The Atheneum was rebuilt on the same site in 1847 and became a free public library in 1900. A significant renovation of the Atheneum took place in 1996, including the addition of the Weezie Library for Children.
The published catalog of the library in 1841 revealed concentrations in history, biography, jurisprudence, orations, philosophy, theology, science, religion, travel and exploration, and literature. Unfortunately fewer than one hundred and fifty of these books survived the Great Fire. The collection was rebuilt through solicited donations and purchases. The next published catalog in 1883 listed approximately 40,000 titles with many of them in multi-volume sets and covering many of the same subject areas as the 1841 catalog with the addition of reference, juvenile, fiction, magazines and newspapers. In 1998, the catalog became fully electronic with public access computers.