$2.1 Million for Boston Public Library’s Founding Research Collection

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Volumes from Boston Public Library's Founding Research Collection.

Yesterday the Boston Public Library (BPL) announced a major donation to clean, catalogue, and preserve the 400,000 volumes that comprise its historic Founding Research Collection. Two gifts, totaling $2.1 million, came from an anonymous donor and the Associates of the BPL. The Founding Research Collection includes some of the first volumes acquired by the BPL in the mid-nineteenth century when it opened as the nation’s first large, municipally funded public library.

“Together, these gifts represent one of the largest private philanthropic investments in the BPL’s research collections,” said Paula Sakey, executive director of the Boston Public Library Fund. “These investments speak to the importance of preserving and maintaining the Founding Research Collection’s extensive resources and making them accessible to the public. We look forward to returning this 16th-20th century collection to our 21st century patrons, who will once again be able to easily explore and learn from these historic treasures.”

Courtesy of Boston Public Library

The room BPL’s Founding Research Collection was originally housed in on Boylston Street, 1858-1895.

The collection of books, pamphlets, journals, maps, atlases, and illustrated portfolios spans five centuries. Many of the items date before 1820 and most are only catalogued on physical cards using a retired classification system, which is one of the reasons this effort is needed to make the collection accessible to the public. Among the rarities are early American Bibles and missionary material, as well as a 1621 edition of the New Testament in Syriac and Latin; an 1831 edition of the Gospel of Matthew printed in the Ojibwe language; and a 17-volume survey of the flora of Denmark printed over 123 years, from 1761-1883.

In order to ensure the longevity of the collection, the BPL intends to implement a comprehensive appraisal program to clean the volumes and determine their future preservation needs. Electronic records will be created for those volumes not yet in the system, to facilitate discovery and use. Phase one of this initiative will begin later this year and run through 2023, complementing the BPL Rare Books & Manuscripts Department’s current renovation project.

“Ranging from illustrated books on natural history to rare volumes on linguistics, religion, sociology, and economics, the BPL’s Founding Research Collection’s value is immeasurable, both intrinsically and as a resource for patrons,” said Laura Irmscher, BPL Chief of Collections. “Through these generous donations, the BPL can improve preservation conditions and deliver on their intended purpose, making these research items accessible and ‘Free to All.’ It is an essential piece of Boston and national history, and we look forward to sharing it with our patrons.”