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Both a private library and an art gallery, the Athenæum gives outsiders an insider's perspective on proper Boston society -- including the impulse to reach out to the community through arts and culture. In other words, it may sound stuffy, but it isn't. The city's leading families founded the Athenæum in 1807 to make "the great works of learning and science in all languages" available to members. The arts component was added in 1827, and the building is now filled with artwork. Docent-led tours (offered twice weekly, by reservation only; tel. 617/227-0270, ext. 279) show off the Palladian-inspired sandstone building, replete with soaring galleries and hideaway nooks, that backs up to the Granary Burying Ground. Completed in 1849 and expanded in 1913-15, it was extensively renovated around the turn of the 21st century. The Athenæum mounts exhibits in the compact art gallery on the first floor -- the only part of the building regularly open to the public -- and schedules lectures, readings, concerts, and, on rare occasions, viewings of the library's most famous holding: an 1847 volume bound in the author's skin.