Hidden Gems of the Boston Public Library: 10 Fascinating Facts You Never Knew

Sarah Lee
March 8, 2023

The Boston Public Library, founded in 1848, is one of the oldest and most prestigious libraries in the United States. With a collection of over 23 million irreplaceable gems, including rare books, manuscripts, maps, and photographs, this extraordinary establishment is not just any library - it is a national heritage site that beckons scholars, researchers, and curious minds from all corners of the world.

But beyond its impressive collection, many things about the Boston Public Library are not widely known. This article explores ten fascinating facts about the Boston Public Library that will surprise you.

10 Things to Know About the Boston Public Library

1) The Building

(Image credits: arcpublishing.com)

The Boston Public Library's edifice is a landmark of exceptional renown within Boston. The structure, designed by the celebrated architect Charles Follen McKim in the Beaux-Arts style, is an emblem of exquisite architectural mastery.

The building's striking entrance, adorned with a sweeping staircase and crafted from white marble, conveys an air of grandeur. Within, the reading room displays intricate murals and sculptures, further attesting to the Library's cultural significance. Over time, the Library has undergone adaptations and renovations to ensure that it remains a hallmark of architectural distinction, with the National Historic Landmark designation conferred upon it in 1972.

In 2016, the Johnson Building underwent modernization to enhance the Library's offerings. Despite these changes, the building has maintained its historical and cultural significance, remaining a hub of intellectual and artistic pursuits within the city.

2) The Collections

(Image credits: Boston Public Library)

The Boston Public Library's collections are vast and diverse, with over 23 million items. Its holdings include rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, and other historical documents. Some of the library's hidden gems possess the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts, which contain letters, speeches, and other documents related to the abolitionist movement, and the John Adams Library, which has books from the personal collection of the second president of the United States.

The library acquires its collections through various means, including donations, purchases, and bequests. Many of the library's collections are also available online for free thanks to its digitization program.

Many of the library's collections are also available online for free thanks to its digitization program.

3) Technology and Innovation

(Image credits: Glenview Public Library)

The Boston Public Library remains steadfast in its commitment to integrating technology into its operations, using library automation, enhancing user experience, and providing innovative services to its esteemed patrons. Its digital resources comprise an array of electronic materials such as e-books, audiobooks, streaming movies and music, and scholarly databases.

Furthermore, the Library has instituted an array of pioneering services, including the Bibliocycle, a mobile library that travels to underserved neighborhoods, and the Home Delivery program, which delivers books to homebound individuals. The Library's well-equipped maker space provides access to 3D printers, laser cutters, and other essential tools for inventive pursuits.

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4) Accessibility and Inclusion

(Image credits: The Berkeley Beacon)

The Boston Public Library is dedicated to providing equal access to all its resources, regardless of ability. It offers specialized services for people with disabilities, including assistive technology, audiobooks, and large print materials. The library also hosts events that celebrate diversity and promote inclusion, such as LGBTQ+ programs and cultural activities.

The library's buildings are designed with accessibility in mind, including features like ramps and elevators. An accessibility team is responsible for ensuring that all programs and services are accessible to all patrons.

5) Exhibitions and Programs

(Image credits: C&G Partners LLC)

The Boston Public Library presents a diverse array of exhibitions and programs that not only display its collections but also provide enriching educational opportunities for the community. Previous exhibitions, such as "Shakespeare Unauthorized" and "Celebrity Culture," examined the authorship of Shakespeare's plays and the influence of celebrity culture on American society.

Future exhibitions, including "Boston's Apollo" and "Arcadia," which feature the artistic works of Dan McCarthy, promise to provide visitors with unique insights into African American performers in Boston's entertainment industry and a captivating display of McCarthy's paintings and drawings.Moreover, the library hosts various programs and events, including workshops, author talks, and film screenings.

6) The Library's Role in the Community

(Image credits: American City Business Journals)

The Boston Public Library is resolutely dedicated to serving the Boston community. Its comprehensive outreach efforts encompass a wide range of initiatives, including partnerships with local schools and community organizations, as well as programs aimed at promoting literacy and lifelong learning.

The library also champions the local artistic community through its Artist-in-Residence program, which provides an innovative workspace and valuable resources to talented creatives working on diverse projects. Additionally, the library is home to a plethora of community events, including concerts and performances, that foster social cohesion and celebrate the rich cultural tapestry of the city.

7) Digital Resources

(Image credits: Boston Public Library)

Beyond its physical collections, the Boston Public Library boasts a comprehensive collection of digital resources that are available online for free. This impressive collection comprises e-books, audiobooks, streaming movies and music, and databases that provide access to scholarly articles and other research materials.

The Library's digital resources offer a suite of user-friendly tools and services that facilitate access and utilization, including the Library's mobile application. This innovative platform empowers users to browse and download e-books and audiobooks directly onto their mobile devices.

8) Preservation and Conservation

(Image credits: City of Boston)

Ensuring the safeguarding and conservation of the Boston Public Library's collections stands as a paramount concern. The Library is committed to employing stringent measures to achieve this goal, including maintaining climate-controlled environments, utilizing acid-free paper and other similar materials, and undertaking digitization initiatives to mitigate material degradation.

Furthermore, the Library has assembled a team of proficient conservators who specialize in restoring and repairing damaged materials. They employ sophisticated techniques and materials to ensure that the collections are conserved to the highest standards and can be passed on to posterity.

9) Notable People Associated with the Boston Library

(Image credits: Poetry Foundation)

Throughout its history, the Boston Public Library has served as a hub for intellectual and literary luminaries, whose contributions have significantly enriched its collections.

Prominent literary figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Sylvia Plath, as well as scholars such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Noam Chomsky, have all utilized the library's resources and contributed to its legacy.

Moreover, the library's influence extends beyond the literary sphere, as evidenced by the architect H.H. Richardson, who drew inspiration from the library's architecture, and writer and historian David McCullough, who conducted extensive research for his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "The Path Between the Seas," at the library.

10) Interesting Facts

Here are some noteworthy facts about the Boston Public Library that may not be widely known:

  • The library boasts of possessing one of the largest main reading rooms in the world, which spans a considerable area of 218 feet in length and 42 feet in width.
  • The Rare Books and Manuscripts Department of the library houses a collection of medieval manuscripts that dates back to the 11th century, showcasing the library's rich historical heritage.
  • The library's extensive collection of over 1.7 million photographs includes rare images of Boston's history and culture, which have been meticulously preserved over time.
  • The Digital Commonwealth project of the library comprises more than 700,000 digital objects from over 200 cultural institutions across Massachusetts, representing a significant milestone in the digitization and preservation of cultural heritage.

Parting Thoughts

The Boston Public Library is a true gem of the city, open to all who seek knowledge and inspiration. Boasting far more than just an impressive collection of books and materials, it is an architectural marvel that will leave visitors in awe.With a commitment to accessibility and innovation, the Boston Public Library is a valuable institution for scholars, researchers, and curious members of the public alike. Boston Public Library hours are Monday-Thursday: 9:00 am - 9:00 pm, Friday-Saturday: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm, and Sunday: 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm.Of course, the Boston Public Library is not the only library in the city. Boston University Library, for example, is another excellent resource for students, faculty, and the public. No matter what your needs are, Boston's libraries can help you.

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About the Author

This article is part of a collaborative series between GR Techand industry leaders, aimed at bringing new ideas andinsights to our readers.

Sarah Lee

project manager

I'm a highly skilled project manager with extensive experience in the education technology industry. With a background in computer science and a passion for improving educational outcomes, I have dedicated my career to developing innovative software solutions that make learning more engaging, accessible, and effective.