The Rosenbach Museum and Library in Rittenhouse Square has announced its plan to merge with the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation.

The relatively small nonprofit has an enviable collection of 400,000 rare books, letters, and art assembled by the late Rosenbach brothers, Abraham and Phillip.

While the collection is stored and displayed in a sealed, climate-control space carved out of two neighboring townhouses on Delancey Place, the organization itself has been shrinking. It has a staff of 13 and an operating budget of $1.3 million.

"We have had to become small in repsonse to the economy," said director Derick Dreher.

The Rosenbach intends to merge with the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, but not to become a branch of the city library system. Rather, the Rosenbach will share its collection and its governance with that foundation which controls the Free Library.

Both institutions will benefit

"The Rosenbach will transform its legal status to become a membership organization controlled by its shareholders," explained Dreher. "The board will elect the Free Library and its board of trustees as the sole shareholder."

Dreher is eyeing the Free Library's six million annual visitors, and its vast donor base. "The merger with the Free Library will give us vastly increased capacity, a vastly increased audience, and a great way to bring to market all the great ideas we've had for years," he said.

The Free Library Foundation, on the other hand, is looking to access the Rosenbach's deep holdings -- including original papers of James Joyce, Bram Stoker and Maurice Sendak -- with its own collections of, for example, Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens.

"Think about what we have here in our collections and then complement it by strong collections around Judaica, around children's literature, all the modernist writers, and the poet Marianne Moore, and of course James Joyce," said Siobhan Reardon, president of the Free Library.

Rosenbach, collection to stay at Delancey site

The Rosenbach and the Free Library Foundation have each signed an intent to merge, a process that will likely take them through Orphan's Court, with an expected July 31 finalization. At that time, the organization will be renamed The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation. It will remain at its Delancey Place address, along with its collection. There will be no transfer of money.

Dreher sees the merger akin to that of Drexel University and the Academy of Natural Sciences last year, the difference being the Rosenbach and the Free Library have been already working side-by-side for nearly a century.

"Dr. Rosenbach joined the board of the Free Library in 1923, and served on it until his death in 1952," said Dreher. "The relationship between the two institutions goes back 90 years at this point."