Monday, October 20, 2014

In Celebration of Open Access Week: Enhancing Discovery and Access to Historical Collections at the State Library

For the past two years, the Special Collections Department has been working on a project to standardize descriptions of its manuscript collections, so that more people can find them and use them for research.

The project started in early 2012 when intern Abigail Cramer joined us as an intern from the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science. There were two major components of her work:
  • to locate the existing guides, or “finding aids,” to the collections, and reformat them so they conform to current standards, and then deposit those findings aids in our digital depository, DSpace
  • to update and improve the descriptions of those collections in our online catalog

The project was much more complicated than it may appear to non-archivists! Finding aids, when they existed at all, were in so many different formats (handwritten, typed, created in WordPerfect, or in MS Word) and in so many different styles that researchers couldn’t be quite sure what they were looking at. Even more important: researchers couldn’t find descriptions of the collections online, so they had to contact staff and have descriptions photocopied and mailed. Not efficient, and not conducive to research.

Old guide to Salvatore Albano Papers (Ms.Coll. 43)

Updated guide to Salvatore Albano Papers (Ms.Coll. 43)

Thanks to Abby’s hard work, that situation has changed. She not only completed work on over 140 collections, now all described in our online catalog with finding aids available with a single click, and findable through major search engines, but she also wrote out clear, comprehensive instructions for all aspects of the project, so it can be continued by Library staff and interns.

Example of an old catalog record 

Example of an updated catalog record

Results of improved accessas shown by increased use of the collectionswere immediate, and extremely gratifying to Library staff.  Improving access to our collections is why we come to work every day!

Special thanks to Abigail Cramer for the superb work she did on a very complicated project.

Beth Carroll-Horrocks
Head of Special Collections

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Opinions Issued By the Attorney General

An entry from Shepard's Citations for
Chapter 796 of the 1949 Acts, providing a
reference to page 29 of the 1949 Report
of the Attorney General   
Legislators, state officials, agencies, and district attorneys often require advice on the legality or constitutionality of a law or issue that has an “immediate concrete relation to the official duties of the state agency or officer requesting the opinion.”  The Attorney General is authorized to provide formal opinions and legal advice on such matters if the request falls within the scope of the AG’s requirements, and these opinions are published in the AG’s annual reports (also known as Public Document 12).  For current information on the types of requests to which the AG will and will not respond, you can visit the office’s opinions overview page.  However, it is important to know that, as of right now, the last formal opinion issued by the AG was on October 11th, 2001.

State and federal legislation, as well as case law, are almost always referenced in the opinions depending on the subject.  Often pieces of legislation are the main subject about which the AG opines, and there are a few ways to see if the legislation you are researching was once submitted for review. One way is by using Shepard’s Citations and/or Westlaw’s KeyCite, which provide citations to relevant opinions (ex. 1949MaAG29).  The editors of the annotated editions of the Massachusetts General Laws also provide citations, but are selective as to which they include.

A helpful hint when researching: prior to 1968, opinions were not numbered individually.  Any citations to opinions that were issued before 1968 will refer to the page number of the report; later citations refer to the assigned opinion number.

Researchers should also keep in mind that the Massachusetts fiscal year begins on July 1st and ends on the following June 30th.

Want to access a report but can’t visit the State Library?  The library maintains a digital collection of reports of the Attorney General in our DSpace electronic documents repository, starting from 1832 up to the most current issue.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Astronomical Almanac

The Astronomical Almanac is a publication of both the United States and Britain. Its publishing history is as follow: in 1766, the British published Nautical Almanac and Astronomical Ephemeris. It was renamed: The Astronomical Ephemeris in 1960.  In 1852, America published The American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac. In 1981 both were combined and the title became:  The Astronomical Almanac.

In the United States the Almanac is published by the United States Naval Observatory (USNO) and in Britain by Her Majesty’s Nautical Almanac Office, United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (HMNAO). It is printed only in the United States and uses reproducible materials from both offices. Data is received from scientists all over the world, and it is considered to be a worldwide resource for astronomical information.

There are 12 sections, including:  a glossary, notes and references, observatories, natural satellites, the sun, the moon and the planets.

There is an online version which does not duplicate the data in the printed volume. Among other data, maps have been added to this version. The yearly Almanac is available for purchase from the Government Printing Office (GPO).

The State Library has the 2015 edition of the Almanac in print (call # D213.8: 2015).  It is available by requesting it from the Reference Desk in room 341 of the State Library. The online version can be accessed at any one of the 8 public access computers available in rooms 341 or 442.

The State Library is open to the public Mondays through Fridays from 9am to 5pm.

Bette L. Siegel
Documents Librarian

Monday, September 29, 2014

State Library Reading Room Update

Beginning October 1st, the State Library’s main reading room and mezzanine will be closed for renovations. The library’s Special Collections Department in State House Room 55 will be open and operate normally during this time. Although these dates may change, the main reading room is expected to reopen on December 1 and the mezzanine is expected to reopen on February 1.

Researchers seeking materials in the library’s main library’s collections are advised that staff will have limited or no access to collections during these renovations and are urged to contact the library staff via email ( for inquiries regarding access to materials in advance of a planned visit. Staff will do everything possible to access needed materials, but there may be some delays in doing so.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Transition Reports of Massachusetts State Offices

Researchers gathering information on particular executive branch state offices (i.e. agencies, offices, departments, commissions, etc.) should be aware of an important type of publication titled “Transition Report” or "Transition document".  These documents are submitted in preparation for a new administration or when other major changes are taking place, and many can be found within the library's collection.  For example, in 2006 Massachusetts agencies were required to submit transition reports in preparation for incoming Governor Deval Patrick.  These reports, which are published either by individual state offices or by their respective overseeing executive offices, provide detailed analyses on how offices are structured, how they function, and how they operate within the state government; the reports can also contain supplemental historical background information, data, and other materials.  Another reason why these reports are so important is that they are helpful in identifying any existing issues that need to be addressed in future strategic planning. The 1990 “Eight year record and transition report” issued by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) in preparation for incoming Governor William Weld does just this and includes a list of prospective problems “if present programs and policies are continued”.

It is expected that this process will continue as we get closer to the November 2014 Massachusetts statewide gubernatorial election, and it will be interesting to see what kinds of materials are published in preparation for the new incoming administration.

A transition report published by the Mass. Department of Social Services in 1990.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, September 15, 2014

Amendment Article 48: What it means for Massachusetts Voters

In November, the people of Massachusetts will take to the polls to vote for Governor, Attorney General, Senators, Representatives, and other elected officials. Included on the ballot, will be a number of questions pertaining to state legislation. In 2013, over 30 petitions were filed to add or change a state law and four will be voted on this year in the form of ballot questions. How these questions got onto the ballot is not always understood, even though it is an important part of the Massachusetts Constitution.

In 1918, voters approved Amendment Article 48 to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This article states that, “the people reserve to themselves the popular initiative, which is the power of a specified number of voters to submit constitutional amendments and laws to the people for approval or rejection; and the popular referendum, which is the power of a specified number of voters to submit laws, enacted by the general court, to the people for their ratification or rejection.” This means that the citizens of Massachusetts have the right to affect the laws within their state. Voters have the ability to repeal laws, create new ones or even add amendments to the state Constitution.

Petitioning for a question to appear on the biennial state election ballot, while a constitutional right, can be a complicated process with many steps that follow a strict timeline over two years. An important part of this process is that once a petition is filed with the Office of the Attorney General, the Attorney General then must decide if the petition meets certain constitutional requirements as put forth in Amendment Article 48. The first requirements are simply that the measure is submitted in the correct format and that a substantially similar measure has not been submitted in either of the two proceeding state elections. The final qualification for certification is more complicated. It is stated that the measure can not contain any subjects that the constitution excludes from the initiative process. Some of these excluded subjects are religion, judges, local issues, and state constitutional rights. This review process can bring up difficult legal issues and so the discussion is open to both sponsors and opponents of the proposed law.  Interested parties are welcome to participate by submitting memoranda on if the law should be certified or not, or by reviewing and commenting on draft summaries of the measure. While it is up to the Attorney General to determine whether or not the petition is certified, these petitions come from the public and their input is crucial.

While this process can be arduous, there are multiple detailed guides and outlines to help you understand each step and meet each deadline:

You can also check out ballot questions from every election since 1919 on the Secretary of State’s site, as well as this year’s petitions and their current statuses on the Attorney General’s site.

Stephanie Turnbull
Reference Department

Monday, September 8, 2014

State Library’s New Exhibit: Legends and Lore of Massachusetts

Opening today at the State Library of Massachusetts: a new exhibition featuring selected stories based in the Commonwealth, from the ghosts at Edith Wharton’s home—The Mount—in Lenox to the famous Sea Serpent in Gloucester Harbor.

The exhibit runs from September 8 through December 31, 2014 and can be viewed outside of the Library, Room 341 of the State House. Library hours are Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. This exhibit will be available to view online as a set of images on the State Library's Flickr site.