By OTTO PENZLER
As a bookseller, I probably shouldn't tell you about this, but since it is likely that you are a serious reader, you ought to know about the Mercantile Library if it has somehow escaped your notice.
This terrific institution comes to mind because it has the largest circulating collection of mystery fiction in the country, and has just received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to host a Big Read celebration for "The Maltese Falcon," one of the 16 great books chosen for this event in the first half of 2008.
The Merc — as we cool, in-the-know professionals call it — is a private library established in 1820, before there were public libraries. It was, and is, dedicated to disseminating literature to those who were not wealthy enough to build their own libraries, and it has amassed an enormous collection of fiction, with special emphasis on the most popular of all genres: mysteries. For a modest annual fee, members can check out everything from current best sellers to the most obscure works of authors who are rarely read today, as so many were in their own lifetime. It is located in a beautiful but non-intimidating building at 17 E. 47th St.
The Big Read, co-sponsored by the Merc, the Mystery Writers of America, the Grand Central Partnership, and the USO, will stage a series of events during April dedicated to Dashiell Hammett's iconic detective story.