You are here

Who We Are

The Mechanics' Institute Library and Chess Room is a general interest membership library, cultural event center, and chess club located in our 9-story landmark building in the Financial District of San Francisco at 57 Post Street. Founded in 1854 to serve the educational and social needs of mechanics — artisans, craftsmen, and inventors — and their families, the Institute today is a favorite of avid readers, writers, downtown employees, students, film lovers, chess players, and the 21st century nomadic worker in search of a place for literary pursuits, thinking, research and study.

Though initially a library dedicated to the mechanical arts, a merger with another institution, known as the Mercantile Library Association, in 1906 caused the Mechanics’ Institute Library’s collection to drop its technical focus. Its collection today covers all subjects with special strengths in literature, fine and performing arts, history, philosophy, business, finance, and periodicals that are hard-to-find in electronic format. The latest best-sellers and films are also available as is a rapidly growing audio-book, e-book, and music collection.

The Mechanics’ Institute prides itself on personal service and its dedication to the “intellectual growth of its members ”. Members are encouraged to recommend materials for purchase, attend workshops, and participate in literature and film discussions groups. Currently there are five book discussion groups on a variety of genres and three writers’ groups offering peer-to-peer support, advice, and camaraderie.

The Mechanics’ Institute Events department hosts over fifty authors a year, offering a broad spectrum of authors and themes, including fiction and non-fiction, with an emphasis on American and world history, arts and architecture, biography, science and technology, social trends, economy, and culinary arts. Special Programs such as the San Francisco Noir Literary Night, World Poetry Reading, Bloomsday , and a Bastille Day Celebration are popular annual events.

The CinemaLit Film Series presents 35 films a year featuring classic American, Retro and foreign films. The evening begins with introductions by prominent film critics, writers and reviewers with a lively discussion after each film. CinemaLit draws an, eclectic, diverse audience with many film buffs dedicated to our Friday night film salon.

Through its Authors' Carnival programming, the Institute also shows support for its writing members. These events include readings, workshops, and performances for, by, and in support of our members who are writers, both published and unpublished.

The Mechanics' Institute building houses the oldest continuously operating chess club in the United States. Many World Champions have visited the chess room from Emanuel Lasker in 1902 to Boris Spassky in 2006. In 2009 one of the chess club’s young students, 12 year-old Daniel Naroditsky won the World Championship for his age group. Activities are offered for all levels of players from beginners to Grandmasters. Tournaments are the lifeblood of the Chess Room with weekend events and Tuesday Night Marathons the anchors.

Membership in the Mechanics’ Institute is open to the public. Membership offers the full services of the Library and Chess Room, along with free admittance or special member rates to special events, lectures, book discussion groups, classes, and other activities.

Click to learn why we are called the Mechanics' Institute
Click to learn about our over 150 year history
Click to learn about our historic home on Post Street