Boston Public Library
Collections of Distinction

Curator Profiles

Sean Casey 

sean casey

Spanish and Portuguese Literature Collection

What do you like most about being a curator? I enjoy the interactions with researchers. Their enthusiasm for the work they are doing and for the BPL’s collections is infectious. I am constantly learning from people who use our collections.

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? Some of my favorite items in the Spanish and Portuguese Literature Collection are the early editions of Don Quixote (1605), and the handwritten manuscript of Lope de Vega’s El Castigo sin Venganza.

Describe something surprising in the collection. I was surprised to find that many of the volumes in the Spanish and Portuguese Literature Collection are first editions and handwritten manuscripts that are exceedingly rare, and for that reason we receive many researchers and requests from around the world.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? The Spanish and Portuguese Literature Collection appeals to anybody interested in Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American literature and history, including art, science, law, and theology.

American Civil War 20th Massachusetts Regiment Collection

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? I really enjoy showing off the Winslow Homer painting “Officers at Camp Benton.” It is a wonderful oil painting that came to the BPL as part of the 20th Massachusetts Regiment Collection.

Describe something surprising in the collection. I was surprised to find the 20th American Civil War 20th Massachusetts Regiment Collection has about 50 hand-written diaries and personal narratives of soldiers that served during the Civil War, including the handwritten diaries of Capt. William A. Noel from Libby Prison, June 12, 1863-March 23, 1864. Also, our most requested items from this collection are two photographs of Frances L. Clalin, a woman who served as a man in the Civil War. In one photograph, she is dressed in female attire, and in the other, she is dressed as a soldier.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? The American Civil War 20th Massachusetts Regiment Collection appeals to anybody interested in the Civil War and the social history of Massachusetts during the war. These letters that the officers and soldiers sent home, and the letters they received in return, provide a wide view of life both on the battlefield and on the Massachusetts home front.


susan glover

Susan Glover

Incunabula Collection

What do you like most about being a curator? I love working with our amazing collections and discovering something new every day that I either did not know we had, or in some cases, I had never seen before.

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? I don’t actually have any “favorites,” but Hynerotomachi Poliphili, printed by Aldus Manutius in 1499, is one of the most beautiful books ever produced in any age.

Describe something surprising in the collection.  I think viewers would be surprised that books of this age were printed on 100% rag paper and look as crisp and white today as the day they were printed, even though they are more than 500 years old.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? This collection appeals especially to design students studying the history of the book or the history of printing types, but it contains many interesting and beautiful books that would engage a general audience.

Colonial and Revolutionary Boston Collection

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? This collection has enormous strengths in administrative and judicial records and includes documents signed by George Washington, John Adams, Paul Revere, and so many other early Patriots. One item that always gives me chills is the True Copie of the Court Booke of the Governor and Society of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (1628-1645). It is a record of the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and documents the activities of the first 17 years of its existence, from the planning in London to the supplying and landing of the ships, to the settling in Massachusetts and establishment of the businesses as well as laws.

Describe something surprising in the collection  I think that visitors are often surprised that records like town minutes are far from dry and can be fascinating accounts of the Colonial era.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? This collection appeals to a wide audience, including students of political, legal, economic, and social history.

Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? There are so many important and beautiful manuscripts in the collection, but I am especially enamored with the extraordinary Book of Hours that is so beautifully decorated with exquisite miniatures, foliated borders, and illuminations.

Describe something surprising in the collection.  Visitors are always amazed by the size of the Antiphonaries that were used by the church choirs and are more than two feet high and bound with the original metal bosses and corners, giving the impression of an armored book.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? This collection appeals to a broad audience who appreciate the beauty and craft of these ancient works.

Shakespeare

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? As a literature major as an undergraduate, I took all the Shakespeare courses. It was a thrill to find so many of them in this collection that were printed during Shakespeare’s lifetime. But, it still gives me goose bumps to bring out the First Folio to show visitors. The First Folio, published seven years after Shakespeare’s death, gathered all of Shakespeare’s works together for the first time and is still the definitive edition of 18 of his plays.

Describe something surprising in the collection. I think visitors are surprised about many authors there were publishing plays during Shakespeare’s time; Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson to name a few.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? It is a rare person who has not been touched by one of Shakespeare’s plays, either through study or popular forms of expression. His work continues to resonate with large portions of the population, his plays are still taught in both in middle school and high school, as well as college and graduate school, and the works themselves continue to be produced as stage productions and movies.


Ronald GrimRonald Grim

Urban Maps Collection

What do you like most about being a curator? I’ve been interested in geography, maps, and traveling since I was a kid. I love constantly learning and exploring. I’ve always been the navigator on family trips since I was little and fascinated by maps.

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? There are more than 500 bird’s eye-view maps in this collection; other than the Library of Congress, it’s the largest collection of this kind. There are a number of unique items; it is definitely a strong collection.

Describe something surprising in the collection. The collection includes a map of Paris from 1739 by Louis Bretez – its detail is fascinating.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? I think the general public would have a strong interest in the collection because the maps tell the history of the city.

Boston and New England Maps Collection

          What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? The collection contains John Bonner’s map of Boston (first published in 1722) that was issued in ten different editions, of which the Library has three. It’s extremely important for documenting Boston’s history.

          Describe something surprising in the collection.We have Charles Pinney’s fire insurance atlas from 1861, which is the earliest for Boston. Not many other organizations have these kinds of Boston records.

          What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? This is a very comprehensive collection; we have a large number of researchers interested  in it, including people who want to learn where businesses where located from that area, or where their relatives may have lived.

           What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? There are more than 500 bird’s eye-view maps in this collection; other than the Library of Congress, it’s the largest collection of this kind. There are a number of unique items; it is definitely a strong collection.

American Revolutionary War Era Maps

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? The collection includes a powder horn inscribed with a map of Boston that is dated from 1775 by a British soldier, which includes the phrase “A pox on the rebels in their crimes.” It is quite interesting to get a perspective of a British soldier during the American Revolutionary War.

Describe something surprising in the collection.  It contains a French edition of a Gulf Stream map (dating to 1776) that was given to the BPL by the great great grandson of Benjamin Franklin. To have something that was used by Benjamin Franklin is pretty remarkable.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? Historians and the general public will definitely find this collection of interest. We are working to make is as accessible as possible; it is digitized and on the Map Center website and can be viewed in person.

Maritime Charts and Atlases

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? Frederick Des Barres’ Atlantic Neptune charts were developed just before the Revolutionary War and give a great perspective on that time period (1771-1781). A significant amount of these are digitized and available on the Map Center’s website for all to enjoy.

Describe something surprising in the collection. It includes a 1620 portolan atlas (with seven charts) that was drawn on velum – it’s amazing to think that people sailed hundreds of years ago with the maps we now have here at the Map Center.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? The collection really has something for everyone to enjoy, from a general audience to academics interested in the northeastern coast pre-19th century.


Kimberly Reynoldskim reynolds

Anti-slavery Collection

What do you like most about being a curator? I think the better question is what do I like most about working in the Rare Books and Manuscripts department. That’s easy – every day is an adventure into something new. Whether it is learning that we have a first edition of Moby-Dick, reading the original poems that Emily Dickinson sent to Thomas Wentworth Higginson for his opinion, or processing an archival collection, there is always something to marvel at.

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? Because these collections are so deep and rich, it is difficult to name any one piece; however, in the Anti-slavery Collection, Deborah Weston’s diary stands because it provides insights into her personal life that her letters do not.

Describe something surprising in the collection. The actual lock that was used to lock William Lloyd Garrison’s jail cell came as a surprise. Garrison was put in jail for his own safety from a lynch mob of angry Bostonians who did not agree with his abolitionist views.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? The collection appeals to college, and graduate students as well as scholars and researchers.
Is there something about the collection I didn’t ask that library visitors might want to know? The Anti-slavery Collection is fairly straight forward, but the most asked question is which abolitionists letters are represented in the collection.

Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Collection

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? Because these collections are so deep and rich, it is difficult to name any one piece; however, in the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Collection are some very striking protest posters from Europe and South America.

Describe something surprising in the collection. The protest posters in the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Collection came as a great surprise in that they document international reactions to the trial.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? The collection appeals to a diverse audience from to college, and graduate students as well as anarchists, authors, scholars and researchers and those who are just curious about the men and the trial.

Is there something about the collection I didn’t ask that library visitors might want to know? People are always interested in knowing what death-masks are and why we have them in the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Collection.

Boston Theater Collection

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? The Boston Theater Collection includes hundreds of playbills that reflect the dynamic theater culture in 19th century Boston and is the only comprehensive history of Boston theater in the city.

Describe something surprising in the collection. The playbills in the Boston Theater Collection are simply amazing. The collection also contains programs, reviews, production material, costume and set designs.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? The collection appeals to college, and graduate students as well as scholars and researchers. Also theater enthusiasts would love this collection.


Stuart Walker Stuart Dusting

Fine and Historic Bookbindings Collection

What do you enjoy about being the curator of this collection? I love observing beautiful and unique examples of the bookbinder’s craft and artistry spanning more than 500 years, and being part of the conservation and preservation of rare and fragile surviving examples of early publishers’ bindings that are in danger of being lost due to a lack of awareness of their significance.

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? Decorated 19th-century publishers’ bindings, especially those designed by the Boston artist Sarah Wyman Whitman.

Describe something surprising in the collection. The Library has an incredible collection of fine, rare, and unique bookbindings, free and open to all, and that it holds examples of early cloth bindings that were previously unrecorded. The oldest book is over a thousand years old.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? Book historians and collectors, artists and designers, students of the Industrial Revolution (machine-made books and the rise of literacy and the middle class), and students of popular culture as reflected in changes in mass-marketed books and their design. Past exhibits of elaborately decorated bookbindings in the Rare Book reception room have been very popular.

Dwiggins and Graphic Design Collection

What do you enjoy about being the curator of this collection? I enjoy working with the students and researchers who use this collection and introducing Dwiggins as both an important graphic designer, and as a bright and magnetic personality to BPL visitors.

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? The marionettes and other realia, including the “Puterschein” pitcher.

Describe something surprising in the collection.  It is interesting to me that Dwiggins coined the term “graphic designer,” that at least two of his typefaces have been adapted for digital use and are still popular, and that he created his marionettes for fun in his spare time.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? Graphic artists, type font designers, art and design students, calligraphers, and puppeteers. The marionettes have a nearly universal appeal.

Is there something about the collection I didn’t ask that library visitors might want to know? People are usually unaware of, and then very enthusiastic about, the fact that they don’t have to be somebody “special” to look at the treasures in the Special Collections – we place only reasonable and relatively minor security restrictions on their use of the reading room. Another point is that local college classes regularly create scholarly exhibits of real value from varying collections of materials in Rare Books and Special Collections – often resulting in a learning experience for Library staff as well as patrons. I spent 31 years being constantly surprised and amazed at the things I discovered and learned at the BPL.


Mary Frances O’Brien – Irish History and Culture Collectionmaryfrances

What do you like most about being a curator? It has been fun to dive back into the Irish History and Culture Collection and explore it in more detail. I researched acquisition files from the library in its earliest days and discovered the BPL did not start really building the collection until the late 20th century.

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? My favorite section of the Irish History and Culture Collection are the pamphlets from the 19th and 20th centuries. Most of the pieces are related to the Irish fight for independence and the materials are extremely fragile due to the fact that they were mass produced quite cheaply.

Describe something surprising in the collection. Some of the earliest materials in the Irish History and Culture Collection, including the 1798 collection, came through special collections dealers in Ireland and include materials gathered over decades of collecting.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? I believe the Irish History and Culture Collection is of special interest to high school and college students. The materials in the collection go beyond the study of ethnic identity to the universal exploration of human rights and political movements, especially in the 1970s and 1980s.


Beth Prindle – John Adams LibraryBeth Prindle small

What do you like most about being a curator? I find that curating a historic collection provides a very real and powerful link between past and present. When I hold one of John Adams’ books, I know he held that exact book as well several hundred years ago and the book is able to span those centuries and connect us in a very moving way.

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? I like them all for different reasons, but there are ones that I feel very personally tied to. John Adams’ copy of a book by Plutarch is near and dear to my heart because there were pressed tree leaves between the back pages that had been left undisturbed for two centuries.

Describe something surprising in the collection. I’m still surprised by the sheer volume of John Adams’ book collecting and reading habits. He started in his teens and collected and read avidly throughout his adult life until his death at the age of 90.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? I find John Adams much more broadly relatable than many of the Founding Fathers. John Adams is really the embodiment of the quintessential American dream.

Is there something about the collection I didn’t ask that library visitors might want to know? There’s been such a wave of interest in John Adams with David McCullough’s 2001 biography John Adams and the HBO miniseries that people nationwide are really hungering to learn more about him and his family.


Henry Scannell – Local and Family Historyhenry scannell

What do you like most about being a curator? I enjoy finding surprising items within the collection. It can be like working in the largest attic in the city with all sorts of interesting items to discover.

What is your favorite piece/section of the collection? The local town histories are my favorite part. Every town in the area has had something interesting that has happened over the past 300 years or so.

Describe something surprising in the collection. Several government documents in the collection surprise me. My favorite example is the first census from Sitka, Alaska after the US Army took over the territory in the 1860s. It was compiled by the US Army, not the Census Bureau, and is extremely detailed about the residents of Sitka at the time.

What specific audiences might this collection appeal to? I believe this collection appeal to all residents of Massachusetts and New England, or those with ancestors who lived here.

Is there something about the collection I didn’t ask that library visitors might want to know? This collection complements many other Collections of Distinction. Investigating the Local & Family History collection can give viewers clues about customs and ways of life hundreds of years ago and can add interest to your day, especially as you explore Boston by foot.