Boston Public Library
Strategic Planning

The BPL Compass

Profiles – Sean Casey, Reference Librarian

by Gina Perille

The George Ticknor Collection of Spanish and Portuguese literature. Shakespeare’s first folio. The first printed dictionary in the West. The John Adams Library. One of the largest collections of anti-slavery manuscripts in the world. These are just a few of the treasures of the Boston Public Library’s Rare Books & Manuscripts Department. And they are in the care of reference librarian Sean Casey.

Much of Sean’s day is spent answering emails or assisting patrons in the reading room. For him, every day brings new discoveries. “We have PhDs and scholars coming here from all over the world and we have people walking in off the street. Anybody can access these collections. It’s amazing.”

While many of these rare books and manuscripts can only be handled at the library, digitization is increasingly making them available online— a phenomenon that is rescuing many precious documents. One such document is the Code Henry, which established the independent government of Haiti in 1812. When the earthquake destroyed Haiti’s national library, the Boston Public Library held the only known surviving copy. It has since been digitized. “With digitization, formerly rare things are now available to the world,” Sean says. “It’s great.”

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