(Caption: The Bates Reading Room at the Boston Public Library)
Did you know that Massachusetts can proudly claim the nation’s first public library and also the first membership library in the original thirteen colonies? And that we have a presidential library, some of the world’s best university libraries, two federal archives, and the world’s largest repository of books for the blind and deaf?
Those facts are worth mentioning as we celebrate National Library Week, an annual appreciation of the important role libraries play in our society, and the value Massachusetts places on education, learning and the free exchange of ideas. The celebration has been organized nationally by the American Library Association since 1958.
The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners is the state agency that supports, improves and promotes library services throughout the state. Massachusetts has over 370 public libraries and 1,400 academic and specialized libraries throughout the Commonwealth. Here are just a few of the highlights:
The Boston Athenaeum, at 8 ½ Beacon Street near the Massachusetts State House, was created in 1807 as the first membership library in the American colonies. The Athenaeum quickly became a centerpiece for the Bay Colony’s cultural, educational, artistic and publishing pursuits. Today it remains a vibrant, important center for scholars, bibliophiles and community groups.
The Boston Public Library opened its doors in 1848, thanks to legislation created and enacted by the Great and General Court of Massachusetts. It was the first large public library in the United States, and was initially referred to as the people’s palace, since it was open to everyone.
The Samuel P. Hayes Research Library & Perkins Archives is regarded as the world’s largest collection of non-medical books about blindness and deafness. The library was founded in 1880, as part of Boston’s Perkins School for the Blind.
The State Library of Massachusetts, located at the State House, has a vast collection of important government documents dating back to the founding of the nation. It also has official documents pertaining to Massachusetts’ participation in various wars, and all of the regulations and laws passed by the Massachusetts Legislature in its history.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum at Columbia Point in Dorchester is a federal repository of the papers and holdings of President Kennedy and his administration. The JFK is a treasure trove of information about the state’s native son, and also materials on mid-20th century politics in America.
The National Archives hold the permanent archival records of the federal government. Massachusetts is fortunate to have two of the thirteen regional facilities located around the country, in Waltham and Pittsfield.
The Massachusetts Health Sciences Library Network is a consortium of libraries that include medical research centers and hospitals, publishing companies and college libraries with significant collections in health sciences.