Boston Public Library
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The BPL Compass

Posts Tagged ‘Center of Knowledge’

Profiles – James Carroll, Writer; Former Trustee, Boston Public Library; Chair, BPL Compass Committee

Posted on August 22nd, 2012 by Gina Perille in Profiles

“I love the library and had done a lot of work there as a researcher and writer, going back to when I first came to Boston in 1969,” says James Carroll. “It was such a vital center of civic life and intellectual life for me already, and I knew from my own experience how urgently important the library is for the citizens of our Commonwealth.” So, when an unofficial “writer’s seat” previously held by Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough became open, Jim was happy to join the Boston Public Library’s Board of Trustees. During his 11-year tenure, Jim chaired the Neighborhood Services Initiative and the BPL Compass Committee.

Rep. Byron Rushing with former Boston Public Library Trustee James Carroll (right).

“Culture changed more between 1450 and 1550, one might argue, than in any other century over the last several millennia. A vast population of Europe that had no relationship to reading, for example, within a century became significantly literate,” he explains. “So from Gutenberg to Shakespeare, this revolution in human awareness embodied in reading and the book, and the changes in the way the human mind works, the way communication works, the way culture identifies itself— all of that followed on a technological revolution in how human beings read.”

To Jim, we’re going through a version of the very same thing—perhaps with even more far-reaching consequences. “And libraries are at the dead center of this revolution, which is why it’s so urgent,” he says.

Recognizing that there is resistance to the evolution in digital technology, he warns against succumbing to it. “The library can’t be defensive and afraid of new technologies on one hand—that’s the perfect formula for being left behind and discarded by culture—and it can’t let go of its custodianship of the treasured literacy of the past,” he says. “It’s more important than ever that we remember what the book was and learn from how human beings treasured it. The Boston Public Library is doing a great job, in my opinion, of maintaining the cultural tradition by keeping the book as the central symbol, but also understanding that service to the public is about far more than books.” He adds that, “If there were no public libraries today, someone with the brilliant idea of establishing public libraries would never get the funding. It would never happen today. There’s no way government—local, state, or federal—would undertake to embark on the library system.”

Fortunately, he sees a brighter future ahead for the Boston Public Library. As he puts it, “I think it’s the center of public service, the heart of the way city government responds to the needs of its citizens as they grow from infancy to old age, centrally and in partnership with public schools and other public institutions.”

For that reason, he predicts “more and more, not less and less” public resources poured into libraries, enabling them to expand their services. In his vision, libraries will serve as community centers and connectors. “Many community members urgently require the services that are available at the library, whether you’re talking about internet access so that people can go online and apply for jobs or academic assistance for kids who are living in homes where both parents are working late, and so forth,” he says. “The library does it all.”

Profiles – Miriam Carrasquillo, Library Assistant; Member, Staff Compass Committee

Posted on August 16th, 2012 by Gina Perille in Profiles

“As soon as I started here, I knew it was my place,” declares Miriam Carrasquillo. That was more than 24 years ago, and Miriam has since served the library in a number of departments, including rare books, music, and now human resources.

Over the years, she has observed a sharp increase in the number of immigrants coming to Boston from other countries. “Some don’t speak much English at the beginning, and they don’t know what programs are available,” she says. “They come to the library as a place to find that information in this country. It’s a place of knowledge. A place to start.”

Another change she has seen taking place is the shift toward the internet. “I’ve seen how people are using computers more than books now,” she says. “Click click is what people are requiring more often, not encyclopedias and yellow pages.”

Miriam is proud that the Boston Public Library is the oldest public library in the nation, and, as a member of the Staff Compass Committee, she is dedicated to honoring that history while ensuring that the library continues moving forward, in step with technology. “Being part of an institution that helps the community—it’s a privilege,” she says.

Profiles – Mimi Jones, Vice President, Board of Directors, Friends of the Dudley Branch Library; Member, City-Wide Friends of the Boston Public Library; Member, BPL Compass Committee and Strategic Planning Committee

Posted on August 14th, 2012 by Gina Perille in Profiles

Established in 1978, the Friends of the Dudley Branch Library—a nonprofit partnership between the Dudley Branch of the Boston Public Library and the local community—promotes an appreciation for the arts, culture, and humanities. Fifteen-year member and now Vice President of the board of directors, Mimi Jones is proud of the events supported by the group.

Her passion for the library is not limited to the Dudley Branch, however. Mimi recognizes the Boston Public Library as one system and has taken an active role in planning for its future, as a member of both the Compass Committee and the Strategic Planning Committee. “I’ve been very pleased with the fact that there’s been tremendous public discourse around the strategic plan,” she says. “The goals and vision of the previous documents like the Neighborhood Services Initiative dovetail nicely with the new, system-wide strategy. It’s a privilege to be at the table to make a contribution and help shape things.”

Ultimately, to Mimi, what’s most important is to make sure the Boston Public Library system remains a window into the world of knowledge. “Beyond books, the Boston Public Library is a place where so much can be acquired, discovered, and learned,” she says.

Digitization at the BPL and a Digital Library for Massachusetts: Chapter 6

Posted on April 30th, 2012 by Tom Blake in Library Services

Raiders of Lost History

By Christina Manzo, Digital Projects Intern
February 17, 2012

Over the course of this grant project, the Boston Public Library team has been lucky enough to visit some of the prettiest libraries that the state has to offer. From small, redbrick buildings to newly renovated structures, I would safely boast that Massachusetts has some of the prettiest libraries in the country. So when we pulled up to a storage facility in Mattapoisett, we were all a little unsure of what to expect. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from working at the BPL, it’s that you find the most interesting items in the oddest places. When we first entered the facility, we were taken to a private room where we could examine the collection proposed for digitization by the Mattapoisett Free Public Library. The boxes were pulled from a giant storage warehouse not unlike the one from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Contained within was the complete, half-century run of a local newspaper called The Presto Press, a magazine-format serial publication that  included everything from want-ads to local historical and genealogical information.

The first thing that strikes you about The Presto Press is the cover art. The publisher, Donald Jason, was a talented artist and illustrated a good majority of the covers  himself. The real prize at the bottom of these serial boxes, however, is the advertisements. Normally, readers tend to skim over advertisements in any publication. When the publication is historic, however, the ads become a window into the miniscule, almost negligible parts of history that often get overlooked.

For example, in The Presto Press, you could see ads for a number of items, services, and local businesses, including some that are still around today. The fact that you can discover the price of roast beef or milk ($0.75 per pound and $0.45 per gallon respectively) or how sewing machine companies tried to reach women of that era, is simply amazing. These are aspects of history that are largely ignored, but they play a role in how we understand our past.

It’s like having our own local version of Mad Men. By comparing an add for a sewing machine from 1955…

to how the same product is portrayed today…

we can see how the country, its people, and the world has changed over time.

With or without the trademark fedora and whip, I think it’s undeniable that all librarians have a little bit of Indy in them. Even if they don’t escape from snake pits or hijack any German U-boats.

Digitization at the BPL and a Digital Library for Massachusetts: Chapter 5

Posted on April 20th, 2012 by Tom Blake in Library Services

National Library Week

By Christina Manzo, Digital Projects Intern
April 11, 2012

As many of you know, last week was National Library Week, a time meant to celebrate the contributions libraries and their workers make in their communities. So in honor of this recent celebration, I thought that I would take a moment to put the spotlight on the men and women that work behind the scenes at the BPL to make the statewide digitization project possible.

I asked a few staff members to share their favorite memories of the project so far and the following were the responses I received:

“The panoramas from the Lowell Historical Society have been my favorite so far. When the eye looks at something, its perspective is so limited that you miss a lot of what’s going on. But with a panorama, you can allow yourself to see a full image, 180 or 360 degrees around. I take panorama photos myself, so I can appreciate how difficult it can be to capture that full image.”

“One of my favorite moments came during an application exchange. During our exchange, Susan Aprill from the Kingston Public Library told me that she had ALREADY used yearbooks that we had scanned for the Holmes Public Library in Halifax, as Kingston is part of the same regional high school.  At that point, they really hadn’t been available online for that long and it was just excellent to hear that the project was already having an impact.”

“One of my favorite moments was at the Halifax Historical Society Museum. We were browsing through the display of historic photographs and prints (many of which had to do with a local chicken industry) hanging from the walls and upon the shelves. As I began to look at some of them more closely, I noticed that they all had numeric designations stickered to them. I asked if these numbers were related to some type of cataloging system. Not only was this indeed the case, but we were then presented with several large binders filled with accession records, item descriptions, and provenance information for each item. This type of record keeping makes digitization and online delivery so much more efficient and meaningful. Once the photos and prints are digitized, these records will also be converted into electronic form so that users can search the collection more precisely.”

“Several institutions have told us that digitizing the resources themselves, or through vendors, would have been financially, very difficult or impossible. I would say that is my favorite part of the job. When we get to help people that wouldn’t have been able to participate in a project like this alone. Working on this project really makes me feel like were are making, in some small way, a difference to these institutions and the communities they serve, as well as making a positive contribution towards making Massachusetts’ rich cultural heritage resources available online.”

And as for me? Well, I could tell you that I love my job and that every day working here is a new adventure and lament the fact that it’s impossible to choose just one memory, but in the end, one moment sticks out pretty clearly.

I had just started here and I was looking for what I defined as ‘really cool stuff’ in the state of Massachusetts to digitize. I wanted to bring only the best and the ‘coolest stuff’ into our collection. One day, I happened to ask my boss if we had already digitized a particular collection of photographs, and he replied, “Probably, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the project.” At that point, I was a little confused. Wasn’t my job to find this ‘really cool stuff’, these one-of-a-kind, priceless, not-to-be-repeated materials that would make people go ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhhh’? As I learned that day, no, it was not.

“It’s all about what’s going to help them. We might have a million copies of the same photo upstairs, but in the end, it’s part of their collection and it’s important to them, so it’s a project worth taking.”

A small moment to be sure, but it radically changed the way I looked at my job and this grant project. I stopped looking for the really cool stuff and started looking for libraries that we could help, if only in some small way. And what I found out was that you find the absolute coolest stuff in the most random places. Like Bette Davis’s class yearbook, or handwritten 18th century intentions of marriage (found in a church basement), or even land settlements between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.

These are the people who make it possible for said objects to be found, scanned, and delivered – casting these materials out of obscurity and thrown into the public eye once more. They devote their time and their talents because they believe that this project is important. So no matter what week it is, I think these people deserve not only respect, but acclamation as well.

Happy belated National Library Week everyone!