Monday, April 13, 2015

Abraham Lincoln's Assassination

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, from
The History of Abraham Lincoln, and
The Overthrow of Slavery
, by Isaac
N. Arnold. Chicago: Clarke & Co., 1866.

In a communication to the Massachusetts State Senate and House of Representatives just two days after President Abraham Lincoln's death on April 15th, 1865, Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew—a strong supporter of the President—expressed his sorrow for the country’s great loss:
“…I desire on this grave occasion, to record my sincere testimony to the unaffected simplicity of his manly purpose, to the constancy with which he devoted himself to his duty, to the grand fidelity with which he subordinated himself to his country, to the clearness, robustness, and sagacity of his understanding, to his sincere love of truth, his undeviating progress in its faithful pursuit, and to the confidence which he could not fail to inspire in the singular integrity of his virtues and the conspicuously judicial quality of his intellect.”

From Massachusetts House Document #227, 1865, page 3.


Special Collections Department

Monday, April 6, 2015

Let it Melt, Let it Melt, Let it Melt (and We Did)

Newton Highlands 1978

Now that spring is here, we might have a better perspective about this past winter and all the snow it brought. We got a lot of snow! In fact in seven days between January 27th and February 2nd Boston got a record breaking amount of snow of 40.5 inches which broke the record from January 1996 of 31.2 inches.  Other records set in Boston this year include:
  • the snowiest month on record with 64.6 inches as of February 25th, 2015,
  • record snowfall in 30 days of 94.4 inches from January 24 - February 22, 2015 and 
  • fastest amount of time for six-foot snow to fall; 72.5 inches in 18 days from January 24-February 10, 2015. 
One of New England’s most memorable blizzards is the Blizzard of 1978 where Boston got 27.1 inches between February 6th and 7th.  This blizzard was made worse by the high tides and flooding along the coast. This blizzard is in 2nd place of the top heaviest Boston snowstorms, the first being February 17-18, 2003 with 27.6 inches.

According to weather.com, on March 5, 2015 Boston reached 105.7 inches of accumulated snow, and on March 15, 2015 at 7 pm Boston broke the record with 108.6 inches of snow for the season, when it received 2.9 inches of snow that day. Since that time we have gotten a few more inches.  Snowfall for Boston is officially measured in East Boston at Logan Airport.  The average snowfall in a snow season for Boston is usually 43.5 inches.  The top five snow amounts during a season are:
  1. 1995-1996   107.6
  2. 2014-2015   110.6
  3. 1993-1994     96.3
  4. 1947-1948     89.2 
  5. 2004-2005     86.6
Official records go back to 1891.  However there are other notable snowstorms before 1891. According to the New England Historical Society one such storm was called the Great Snow of 1717, which produced 5 feet of snow in New England and the New York colonies, between the dates of February 27 through March 7, 1717.  There was so much snow that the Puritans could not hold church services for two successive weeks as reported by Cotton Mather. Another storm was called the Great Blizzard of 1888 struck on March 11, 1888 in the northeast killing more than 400 people and dumping as much as 50 inches of snow in Massachusetts. This storm is also referred to as the Great White Hurricane.

Henry David Thoreau writes about the coldest winter in New England from December 1856-January 1857.  On January 17th, it was 20 degrees below zero in Salem.

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) provides valuable information on weather related topics including: hypothermia, how to clear a roof of snow and Ice Safety.

Image from MEMA's website.

Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian

Monday, March 30, 2015

Free access to eBooks


Did you know that your State Library card gives you access to thousands of free eBooks? If you are a current Massachusetts Executive or Legislative branch state employee, all you have to do is enter your library card number (located on the back of your card) at our digital catalog.

Once you’re logged in, you can browse available eBooks in a variety of ways, such as genre, subject, or popularity. You can also browse by device type, including Kindle, Android, and iOS, among others. Once you have found a book to check out, simply mouse over the book’s image for the option either to place a hold (if the eBook is currently in use by another patron) or to borrow the eBook.

Don’t have a State Library card? No problem! Simply visit our website to apply for a card today. We will mail you your new card, and you will be on your way to enjoying free access to a wide variety of popular fiction and nonfiction eBooks.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Monday, March 23, 2015

When Electronic-Docs Disappear

In January, the State Library of Massachusetts was celebrating a new year, newly renovated reading room and the state of Massachusetts was gearing up for a new governor. The library was busy and the building was buzzing about Governor Deval Patrick’s “Lone Walk” and Governor Charlie Baker’s Inauguration Day. We had been getting questions about the new governor and his administration when I got a call at the reference desk asking where all of Governor Patrick’s speeches had disappeared to. Disappeared to? As reference librarians, we are used to questions like, “Where can I find this?” or “Do you have a copy of that?” But when someone calls to ask, “Where did that go?” reference work can be a bit harder.

It took me a minute to realize what the patron was asking. Mass.gov, the official website for the Commonwealth, had online copies of every speech Governor Patrick had given available online at Mass.gov/governor. However, with a new homepage now representing Governor Baker, the material from the last administration had left along with Governor Patrick himself. A website that had once displayed speeches, press releases, executive orders and other information from the previous administration seemed to have been lost.

In our modern day of born-digital records and publications that are now solely available online, we as librarians and archivists have to be a step ahead. Just because an item is not cataloged and placed on a shelf, does not mean it is not part of our collection. For electronic documents, The Massachusetts State Library uses a digital repository system called Dspace. Dpsace is an electronic archive system which stores our digital collection so that it is accessible to everyone. While some materials we have digitized and cataloged ourselves, many of the publications are electronic documents that are found online by librarians or our online crawler system. Since we receive publications in both digital and physical formats, it is up to library staff to keep track of what format items are being created in and how best to make them available to our patrons and the public



So what do you do when neither the librarians nor the crawler has pulled a document into your collection and you do not have physical copies? What happens when digital data seems to disappear? These speeches surely were not gone for good and some are available online through other institutions. But to gain access to every speech would involve quite a bit of digging and e-mailing and creative thinking. Tracking down every speech might have been impossible. When we are living in an age of instant information, where deadlines and time limits are factors and you have come to count on a certain resource or website, what do you do?

In this instance, we were saved by The Internet Archive. The Internet Archive is a non-profit that has created an internet library of born digital items and websites. With their Wayback Machine, the public is able to look at websites from different dates and times, depending on when a capture was taking by the Wayback Machine’s crawler. While we could go back to Mass.gov in 2001, all we needed to do was to go to the day before to find the old site and its materials.


The library staff used the Wayback Machine to pull all of Governor Patrick’s speeches and will continue to catalog new speeches by Governor Baker. However, these speeches are just an example of the many documents we at the library are trying to archive. With the huge amount of data and variety of records that are put online, it seems impossible that we’d be able to grab every resource and publication that comes out of the Massachusetts State Government. While some people may think that everything is online these days, remember that electronic documents are a form of media that if not cared for, can disappear just as easily as a paper pamphlet in a fire or flood. What is online has to be protected, archived and arranged just like every physical book and document that came before it. At the State Library, we are working to keep up with the ever changing medium of electronic documents so that you can find the information you need.


To find out what publications and items we have in our physical and digital collection, search our catalog and explore our website!

Stephanie Turnbull
Reference Department

Monday, March 16, 2015

Remembering Evacuation Day

Evacuation Day commemorates the evacuation of British forces from the city of Boston on March 17, 1776, following an 11-month siege of the city. It was the first major American military victory in the Revolutionary War.  



Special Collections Department

Monday, March 9, 2015

Antique Maps

In the State Library’s preservation lab, I work with some wonderfully historic and awe-inspiring material.  Other times, I find gems that may not be quite as old or historically significant, but that are still valuable resources in our collection.

In 1960, Sterling Publishing published a volume called released Antique Maps of the World in Color - featuring beautiful reproductions of thirty-six maps, ranging from the 16th through the 19th century. Some of the original maps were created as single pieces; others were first published in atlases. Some were painted by hand by the mapmaker himself, others were professionally colored.  As citizens of the twenty-first century, we expect the landscapes depicted on modern day maps to be up-to-date and accurate, but the awesomeness of these imaginative and interesting antique maps cannot be denied. Cartography fans and laymen alike will appreciate not only the color and beauty of the maps themselves, but the fascinating changing landscapes, boundaries and names of locations all throughout the Old and New World.  The book itself needs no preservation or conservation repair – it was simply an enjoyable find here at the library.

Map of the Holy Land by Abraham Ortelius

This map of the Holy Land created by Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598) depicts Jerusalem, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea.  The twenty-two vignettes bordering the map depict the travels of Abraham as he traveled throughout Jerusalem.  His route is depicted in the small inset box.

Map of Irlandia

This map, unsigned and undated, depicts Ireland before the Middle Ages.  Note the orientation of the map – with North being on the right side, as opposed to the top of the map.

Map of Britain by John Speed

John Speed (1552-1629) depicts Britain’s division of seven allied districts in the year 1607.  The illustrations on the sides show Britain’s history from 456 to 662 and the leaders who founded the kingdoms.  On the map you can see the coats of arms representing the seven districts, in addition to the coat of arms for Wales, the harp in Ireland and the two coats of arms in Scotland.

Map of Italy and islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and Malta

This map, issued at some point between 1700 and 1721, depicts the divisions of Italy and islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and Malta.  Jean Baptiste Homann, the Nuremberg mapmaker, typically colored his maps and left the cartouches in black and white, as you can see.  This particular cartouche shows Pope Clement XL and child angels.  

Map of America

Though this map is dated 1690, it was actually issued by map publisher Johann Baptiste Homann between 1717 and 1719 for Scottish economist and banker John Law’s inflated promotion of  the “Mississippi Company.”  Great liberties were taken with this map and it is not thought to be highly accurate.  In the original map, the trees and the mountains were not done in color and the cartouches were different as well.

Kelly Turner
Preservation Librarian


Monday, March 2, 2015

William Bradford’s manuscript volume “Of Plimoth plantation” now available online

Bradford manuscript special display case (bottom right)
in main Library, ca. 1908.

In 2014 the State Library completed a major project to conserve and digitize one of the Commonwealth’s greatest treasures, William Bradford’s manuscript titled Of Plimoth plantation. Bradford (1590-1657) was one of the original Mayflower passengers, arriving in what is now called Plymouth in 1620. Ten years later, he started to write an account of the Pilgrim’s history and travels, starting in England, moving to the Netherlands, crossing the Atlantic, and then their first thirty years in Massachusetts. He stopped writing his narrative in 1650, and ended the volume in 1659 with a descriptive list of the Mayflower passengers and their status at the time.

The volume’s history is long and complicated, but can be summarized in a few points: between 1650 and 1726 the manuscript remained in the hands of the Bradford family until the family loaned it to Thomas Prince, Rector of Old South Church in Boston.  Prince died before volume could be returned to the family. Legend has it that British soldiers removed the manuscript from Old South Church during the Revolutionary War. In 1855, Massachusetts historian William Barry discovered the volume in the Library of the Bishop of London in Fulham Palace, and then for the next forty years individuals and historical organizations in Massachusetts negotiated for its return. In 1897 the volume was returned to Massachusetts and placed in the custody of Governor Roger Wolcott; Governor Wolcott authorized the State Library to care for the volume. In 2012 the State Library won support to conserve and digitize the volume at the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in Andover, Massachusetts, with funding through the LSTA (Library Services and Technology Act) Preservation of Library and Archival Materials Grant, as administered through the MBLC (Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners).

Top corner of binding, showing loose page, before treatment. 

Top corner of binding, after treatment. Conservators removed the
loose page, treated it, and stored it in a custom-sized archival
portfolio that is stored with the volume.  

The results of the project: the manuscript is fully conserved and can be handled (carefully, when necessary).  The pages were cleaned and repaired; the binding is more supple and flexible; the pages and other materials added after the volume’s return from England in the 1890s have been removed, repaired, and stored separately.  The manuscript now has a custom-designed box. There are also two facsimile volumes available in the State Library for patron use, printed from the digital images captured at NEDCC after the conservators finished their work.

The restored manuscript, in its custom-fitted clamshell box.
The portfolio at the top holds the 1890's documents that were
removed during treatment at the Northeast Document
Conservation Center.  

The best part of this story: There is a new record in the Library’s online catalog containing a full description of the volume as well as links to an updated finding aid, and to the State Library’s digital repository, DSpace, where all of the pages are now available for public viewing.

Special Collections Department