Boston Public Library

Boston Public Library
Country United States
Type Public
Established 1852
Location Boston, Massachusetts
Coordinates 42°20′57.55″N 71°4′41.78″W / 42.3493194°N 71.0782722°W / 42.3493194; -71.0782722Coordinates: 42°20′57.55″N 71°4′41.78″W / 42.3493194°N 71.0782722°W / 42.3493194; -71.0782722
Branches 24
Size 24,079,520
Access and use
Circulation 3.69 million (FY 2013)
Population served 6,547,629
Other information
Budget $31.2 million, plus $8.2 million from trust fund (2013)[1]
Director David Leonard, Interim President[2]
Robert E. Gallery, Chairman of the Board[3]
Looking down at the entrance stairway to the McKim Building (2014)

The Boston Public Library is a municipal public library system in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, founded in 1848.[4] The Boston Public Library is also the Library for the Commonwealth[5] (formerly library of last recourse)[6] of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; all adult residents of the commonwealth are entitled to borrowing and research privileges, and the library receives state funding. The Boston Public Library contains approximately 23 million items encompassing all formats including books, DVDs, CDs, maps, music scores, microfilm, manuscripts, prints and other visual materials,[7] and electronic resources, making it the third-largest public library in the United States behind only the Library of Congress (with 160 million items) and the New York Public Library (with 53 million items), according to the American Library Association.[8] In fiscal year 2014, the library held over 10,000 programs, all free to the public, and lent 3.7 million materials.[9]


According to its website, the Boston Public Library has a collection of over 23.7 million items, which makes it one of the largest municipal public library systems in the United States. The vast majority of the collection – over 22.7 million volumes — is held in the library's central research library.[10] Between July 2012 and June 2013, the annual circulation of the BPL was 3.69 million.[11] Because of the strength and importance of its research collection, the Boston Public Library is a member of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), a not-for-profit organization comprising the research libraries of North America. The New York Public Library is the only other public library that is a member of the ARL. The library has special strengths in art and art history (available on the third floor of the McKim building) and American history (including significant research material), and maintains a depository of government documents.

Included in the BPL's research collection are more than 1.7 million rare books and manuscripts. It possesses wide-ranging and important holdings, including medieval manuscripts and incunabula, early editions of William Shakespeare (among which are a number of Shakespeare quartos and the First Folio), the George Ticknor collection of Spanish literature, a major collection of Daniel Defoe, records of colonial Boston, the 3,800 volume personal library of John Adams, the mathematical and astronomical library of Nathaniel Bowditch, important manuscript archives on abolitionism, including the papers of William Lloyd Garrison, and a major collection of materials on the Sacco and Vanzetti case. There are large collections of prints, photographs, postcards, and maps. The library, for example, holds one of the major collections of watercolors and drawings by Thomas Rowlandson. The library has a special strength in music, and holds the archives of the Handel and Haydn Society, scores from the estate of Serge Koussevitzky, and the papers of the important American composer Walter Piston.

For all these reasons, the historian David McCullough has described the Boston Public Library as one of the five most important libraries in America, the others being the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and the university libraries of Harvard and Yale.


Founding and expansion

In the mid-19th century, several people were instrumental in the establishment of the Boston Public Library. George Ticknor, a Harvard professor and trustee of the Boston Athenaeum, raised the possibility of establishing a public library in Boston beginning as early as 1826. At the time, Ticknor could not generate enough interest.

In 1839, Alexandre Vattemare, a Frenchman, suggested that all of Boston's libraries combine themselves into one institution for the benefit of the public.[12] The idea was presented to many Boston libraries, however, most were uninterested in the idea. At Vattemare's urging, Paris sent gifts of books in 1843 and 1847 to assist in establishing a unified public library. Vattemare made yet another gift of books in 1849.

Josiah Quincy, Jr. anonymously donated $5,000 to begin the funding of a new library. Quincy made the donation while he was mayor of Boston. Indirectly, John Jacob Astor also influenced the establishment of a public library in Boston. At the time of his death, Astor bequeathed $400,000 to New York to establish a public library there. Because of the cultural and economic rivalry between Boston and New York, this bequest prompted more discussion of establishing a public library in Boston.[13] In 1848, a statute of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts enabled the creation of the library. The library was officially established in Boston by a city ordinance in 1852.[14] Mayor Benjamin Seaver recommended to the city council that a librarian be appointed. In May 1852 the city council adopted the recommendations of the mayor and Edward Capen was chosen to become Boston Public Library's first librarian.[15]

Eager to support the library, Edward Everett collected documents from both houses of Congress, bound them at his own expense, and offered this collection to help establish the new library. At the time of Everett's donation, George Ticknor became involved in the active planning for the new library.[16] In 1852, financier Joshua Bates gave a gift of $50,000 to establish a library in Boston. After Bates' gift was received, Ticknor made lists of what books to purchase. He traveled extensively to purchase books for the library, visit other libraries, and set up book agencies.[16]

Public Library, Boylston Street, 1858–1895 (demolished 1899).

To house the collection, a former schoolhouse located on Mason Street was selected as the library's first home. On March 20, 1854, the Reading Room of the Boston Public Library officially opened to the public. The circulation department opened on May 2, 1854.

Reading Room in 1871 at the first Boylston Street building, the library's location between 1858 and 1895.

The opening day collection of 16,000 volumes fit in the Mason Street building, but it quickly became obvious that its quarters were inadequate. So in December 1854, the library's commissioners authorized the library to move to a new building on Boylston Street. Designed by Charles Kirk Kirby to hold 240,000 volumes, the imposing Italianate edifice opened in 1858. But eventually the library outgrew that building as well; in 1878, an examining committee recommended replacing it with a new one at another location.

By 1880, the Massachusetts legislature authorized construction of an even grander library building. A site selected was in Back Bay on Copley Square – the prominent corner of Boylston Street and Dartmouth Street, opposite Richardson's Trinity Church and near the first Boston Museum of Fine Arts. After several years of debate over the selection of the architects and architectural style for the new library, in 1887 the prestigious New York firm of McKim, Mead, and White was chosen to design the new library. In 1888, Charles Follen McKim proposed a design based on the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, in a Renaissance style which met approval from the trustees of the library, and construction commenced. The vast new reading room was called Bates Hall.

In 1870, the library opened the East Boston branch, the first branch library in America. With the aim of increasing its reach throughout the city, the library opened 21 more branches in Boston neighborhoods between 1872 and 1900.[17]

In 1972, the Johnson building opened at the central Copley Square location, adjacent to the McKim building. The addition was designed by Philip Johnson. In 1986, the National Park Service named the McKim building a National Historic Landmark.[17]

Recent history

As of 2006, the Library has had staffing and funding levels for conservation below that of its peers: the BPL's staff of two full-time conservators is significantly less than the New York Public Library's thirty-five. Many colonial records and John Adams manuscripts are brittle, decaying, and in need of attention prompting the Library's acting Keeper of Rare Books and Manuscripts to say that "they are falling apart."[18]

In 2011, the library completed a strategic plan, the BPL Compass, which featured eight community-identified Principles for Excellence. The principles in the plan and all of the related outcomes came as the result of a two-year community engagement process for which Boston Public Library received national recognition.[19]

In fiscal year 2012, the city of Boston spent 1.26% ($27,836,648) of its budget on the library, or $43.74 per person.[20]

In 2013, the library unveiled its Collections of Distinction, an initial group of 18 collections that represent the most outstanding, expansive, and renowned of its holdings, Boston Public Library gives priority to Collections of Distinction with respect to public access, acquisition, digitization, preservation, and staff development.[21]

In fall 2013, the library began a renovation of the Central Library's Johnson building.[22] In February 2015, the first phase of renovation opened on the Johnson building's second floor, including the new Children's Library, Teen Central, a community reading area, and the Adult Reference area. The renovated second floor cost a total of $18 million. The second phase of the Johnson building renovations will open in summer 2016 and included the first floor, mezzanine, and exterior.[23]

Central Library

The Boston Central Library is located in Copley Square in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood. The central library consists of McKim Building and Johnson Building, and the two buildings are attached and interconnected with interior passageways. The central library as a whole with the two buildings combined contains 930,000 square feet (86,000 m2) of space and houses 21,000,000 items in its collections as of 2015.[24]

The McKim building

McKim Building, Copley Square, Boston, 2005
Reading Room at McKim Building in 2013
Boston Public Library, 2016

The McKim building houses the BPL's research collection.[24]

The Johnson building

Johnson Building, Boylston St. near Copley Square, Boston, 2008

Designed by Philip Johnson, a late modernist addition (which somewhat anticipated postmodernist architecture) was built in 1967–1971 and opened in 1972. The Johnson building reflects similar proportions, and is built of the same pink Milford granite as the McKim building. Critics have likened it to a mausoleum, citing the small percentage of windows relieving the massive walls in its exterior façade.

Upon opening, the Johnson building became the home for the BPL's main circulating collection, which includes works in many languages. It also serves as headquarters for the Boston Public Library's 24 branch libraries.[17]

In 2013, the library began a major renovation project on the Johnson building. The first phase of the renovation opened in February 2015 on the Johnson building's second floor and features a new Children's Library, Teen Central, a community reading area, and Adult Reference area. The second phase includes renovations to the buildings first floor, mezzanine, and exterior and opened in the summer 2016.[23] The $78 million renovation includes a new business innovation center and business library, an radio broadcasting studio for WGBH (FM), a 3D printer, and a café.[25]

Current services

Public Programs

The Boston Public Library hosts thousands of free public programs each year, including Author Talks, Local and Family History lectures, the Lowell Lecture Series, Concerts in the Courtyard, and art and history exhibitions.[26][27] The Boston Public Library also offers many daily events for children, teens, adults, and seniors, including story times, book discussions, film showings, ESL conversation groups, and research and technology classes.[28][29][30]

Computers and Internet access

The Boston Public Library offers desktop computers with pay-for-print services for public use and free wireless internet at the Central Library all 24 branches for anyone who has a wireless-enabled mobile device and a library card. Plug-in Ethernet access is also available in the McKim building's Bates Hall and the Honan-Allston Branch's Adult Reading Room. Library-card holders can also borrow laptops for in-library use for 2 hours at any location.[29][31][32]

Digital services

The library offers a variety of digital services and collections. The online catalog, also available for mobile devices, allows users to browse and place holds on materials including books, audiobooks, DVDs, and CDs. Users can also download ebooks, e-audiobooks, music, and video through BPL's OverDrive site and check out Zinio magazines for the computer, tablet, or smartphone. Library card holders and e-card holders can also stream movies, television shows, music, and audiobooks through Hoopla Streaming Media.[33]

Many of the Boston Public Library's collections are available to the public online, including rare books and manuscripts, the anti-slavery manuscript collection, historical children's books, the John Adams Library, historic maps from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, historical images, prints, and photographs, sound archives, and silent films.[29][34] Many of the library's digitized works can be found either through the Boston Public Library Flickr page[35] or through their collections on the Digital Commonwealth.[36]

List of databases

As of 2014 the library arranges for its patrons access to digital content from several providers:

Digital partners

Boston Public Library has two digital partners-in-residence at the Central Library in Copley Square. The first is Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library that offers permanent access to historical collections in digital format for researchers, historians, and the general public. The Digital Public Library of America provides access to digital content from American libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies.[43]

Branch library system

In the latter half of the 19th century, the library worked vigorously to develop and expand its branch library system. Viewed as a means to extend its presence throughout the city, the branch system evolved from an idea in 1867 to a reality in 1870, when the first branch library in the United States was opened in East Boston. The library currently has 24 branches serving diverse populations in the city's neighborhoods.[44]

Faneuil Branch, Brighton, 2010
Honan-Allston Branch, 2009
East Boston Branch, 2008
Orient Heights Branch, 2011
Roslindale Branch, 2008
Egleston Square, 2011

See also


  1. "Summary Budget" (PDF). City of Boston. 2012. Retrieved 2013-11-16.
  2. "BPL - Management Staff". Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  3. "BPL - Trustees". Retrieved 2015-02-11.
  4. Wayne A. Wiegand; Donald G. Davis (1994). Encyclopedia of Library History. Taylor & Francis. pp. 85–. ISBN 978-0-8240-5787-9.
  5. "Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Legislative Agenda". Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  6. Declared in 1970 by law. Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 78, Section 19C, paragraph 4
  7. "BPL By the Numbers: FY2014" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-10-15.
  8. American Library Association, "ALA Library Fact Sheet 22 – The Nation's Largest Libraries: A Listing by Volumes Held". July 2010.
  9. "BPL - BP by the Numbers". Retrieved 2014-10-15.
  10. "The Boston Public Library Fact Sheet" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-09-02. Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  11. "The Boston Public Library". Retrieved 2014-01-01.
  12. McCrann, Grace-Ellen (2005): "Contemporary Forces That Supported the Founding of the Boston Public Library." Public Libraries, Vol. 44, no. 4, July/August 2005.
  13. McCrann, Grace-Ellen (2005): "Contemporary Forces That Supported the Founding of the Boston Public Library." Public Libraries, Vol. 44, no. 4, July/August 2005.
  14. For context, see: List of libraries in 19th-century Boston, Massachusetts
  15. International Dictionary of Library Histories, Volume 1
  16. 1 2 McCrann 2005.
  17. 1 2 3 "BPL - History and Description". Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  18. MacQuarrie, Brian (2006-10-06). "Library lacks means to repair old tomes". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on March 22, 2007. Retrieved 2006-10-06.
  19. "Compass Strategic Plan". BPL. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  20. July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013; cf. Commonwealth of Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (2014). "FY2012 Municipal Pie Report" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  21. "Collections of Distinction". BPL. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  22. "BPL - Central Library Renovation Fact Sheet" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  23. 1 2 Cook, Greg. "Research: First Look Inside The Boston Library's Astonishing, Colorful Renovation". Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  24. 1 2 3 4 "Boston Public Library : Fact Sheet" (PDF). Boston Public Library. Boston Public Library. 17 June 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 October 2015. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  25. Goodwin, Jeremy D. (2016-07-08). "With $78M Renovation, Boston Public Library Aims For Friendlier Vibe". WBUR-FM. Retrieved 2016-07-11.
  26. "May Author Talks and Lectures at Boston Public Library Locations" (Press release). Press Room: Boston Public Library. April 23, 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  27. "Boston Public Library Celebrates 210 Years of Haitian Independence" (Press release). Press Room: Boston Public Library. May 20, 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  28. "Lifelong Learning Happens at Boston Public Library" (Press release). Press Room: Boston Public Library. 2013-08-30. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  29. 1 2 3 Perille, Gina (2013-12-27). "A New Year of Free Opportunities at Boston Public Library" (Press release). Press Room: Boston Public Library. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  30. "School Vacation Week Programs Await Families at Boston Public Library Locations" (Press release). News & Press Releases: City of Boston. 2014-02-11. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  31. "Boston Public Library - Computers and Technology". Retrieved 2014-07-07.
  32. "Dimension Data Brings Historic Boston Public Library Into The Wireless World" (PDF) (Press release). Cisco. 2003-08-22. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  33. "Boston Public Library Expands Digital Offerings through Free Streaming Media Service" (Press release). Press Room: Boston Public Library. 2014-03-25. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  34. "Boston Public Library - Online Collections". Retrieved 2014-07-08.
  35. "Boston Public Library". Flickr.
  36. "Boston Public Library". Digital Commonwealth.
  37. Boston Public Library. "Online Database A - Z List". Electronic Resources. Archived from the original on 2014-06-26. Retrieved July 2014. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  38. 1 2 "Expenditure Summary for Miscsup Gen Library Books ... for Fiscal Year 2014". Data Portal: Checkbook Explorer. City of Boston. Retrieved July 2014. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  39. "eReviews: Biography: Biography and Genealogy Master Index", Library Journal, April 15, 2012, BGMI is a throwback to another era
  40. "CORI Vendor Report". Data Portal. City of Boston. Retrieved July 2014. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  41. "Database of the Month: In Context series from Gale". Waltham, MA: Bentley University Library. April 2013.
  42. "eReviews: World History in Context", Library Journal, April 15, 2014
  43. "Boston Public Library Accomplishments - FY14" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-10-16.
  44. "BPL - Neighborhood Branch Libraries". Retrieved 2014-06-30.
  45. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 First Report of the Free Public Library Commission of Massachusetts. 1891; p.29.
  46. "Retrieved 2010-06-08". 1967-06-01. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  47. Sammarco, Anthony Mitchell, Boston's South End, Arcadia Publishing, 2006. Cf. p.32
  48. "Retrieved 2010-06-08". 1971-06-07. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  49. "West End Branch". BPL. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  50. "Brighton Branch". BPL. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  51. "Faneuil Branch". BPL. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  52. "Honan-Allston Branch". BPL. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  53. "Charlestown Branch". BPL. Archived from the original on 2013-01-05. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  54. "Adams Street Branch". BPL. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  55. "Codman Branch". BPL. Archived from the original on 2013-01-05. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  56. Report of the Free Public Library Commission of Massachusetts, 1906
  57. "Fields Corner Branch". BPL. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  58. "Grove Hall Branch". BPL. 2009-04-04. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  59. "Lower Mills Branch". BPL. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  60. Trustees vote yes on library closings. Boston Globe. Apr 10, 2010
  61. "Uphams Corner Branch". BPL. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  62. "East Boston Branch". BPL. Archived from the original on 2013-01-05. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  63. "East Boston Branch". Boston Public Library. Archived from the original on 15 March 2014. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  64. "Hyde Park Branch". BPL. Retrieved 2013-10-15.
  65. "Connolly Branch". BPL. 1940-12-12. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  66. "Jamaica Plain Branch". BPL. 1911-07-24. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  67. Libraries spared from closure, Jamaica Plain Gazette, Apr 16, 2010
  68. "Mattapan Branch". BPL. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  69. "Roslindale Branch". BPL. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  70. "Dudley Branch". BPL. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  71. "Egleston Square Branch". BPL. 1953-07-08. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  72. "Parker Hill Branch". BPL. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  73. "South Boston Branch". BPL. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  74. "West Roxbury Branch". BPL. 1989-09-24. Retrieved 2013-01-02.

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