Monday, January 13, 2020

New Exhibit: The State Library of Massachusetts: Serving the Commonwealth since 1826

The State Library invites you to view our newest exhibit, The State Library of Massachusetts: Serving the Commonwealth since 1826. This exhibit follows the library’s history from its humble beginnings as a program to exchange statutes with other states to its official establishment by the General Court in 1826 to its current status as a research library focused on providing online access to its many resources. The exhibit describes how much the State Library has grown, changed, and improved, in its collection size and scope, administration and governance, staffing, users, physical location, and especially in the services it provides.

The exhibit runs from January 13 through July 3, 2020, and it can be viewed outside of the State Library, Room 341 of the State House. Library hours are Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. You can also browse the exhibit online through the library’s Flickr page

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Monday, January 6, 2020

On Display in the State Library

Almanacs provide a glimpse into the coming year, and as we turn the page to 2020, the State Library is looking back at some of the historic almanacs in our collection. On exhibit in the library through January 29 is a selection of Isaiah Thomas’s New England Almanac. Thomas published the almanac from 1775 through 1803, at which point his son continued publication through 1819.

Similar to today’s almanacs, these pamphlets look to the year ahead and provide tide, lunar, and weather data, along with important historical dates and general information or “anecdotes.” Anecdotes cover everything from human anatomy, to postage rates, to recipes for manure. Each month is depicted with an illustration and also includes a brief verse, poem, or narrative that continues as a serial from month-to-month. In an introductory letter from the editor in the 1797 edition, Isaiah Thomas wrote that “I have ever made it a practice to present you with something each year which should be worth more at the end of it than the price you gave for the almanac” and with all of the information provided, it seems as though he delivered on his word.

We are currently displaying the almanacs from 1797, 1800, and 1812. A close examination of the title pages of the 1797 and 1812 almanacs allow us to note the change in price over fifteen years – the almanac increased from 10 cents to 12 ½ cents for a single, and 75 cents to 87 ½ cents for a dozen. During this range of years, it is also important to note the change in publisher from Isaiah Thomas to his son, Isaiah Thomas, Jr. The 1800 almanac is on display opened to the January pages, in part so that we can compare our weather to what was predicted 220 years ago (snow on January 6-8, 13-18, and 25-29, along with “foul weather” on the 21 and 22).

Isaiah Thomas was born in Boston in 1749, where he was apprenticed at the age of seven to a printer named Zechariah Fowle. At the onset of the Revolutionary War, Thomas moved to Worcester where he continued his printing business. He was a participant in the Battles of Lexington and Concord, but he is also remembered as the founder of the American Antiquarian Society, a learned society and national research library that actively continues today. Thomas donated his papers, books, and newspapers to the AAS and served as its president until his death in 1831.

Frequently when an item goes on exhibit in the library, it needs a little bit of preservation work beforehand. But none of these almanacs needed any work by us because they recently underwent treatment at the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). The State Library holds fourteen editions of the almanac, dating from 1797 to 1813. The conservators at NEDCC cleaned each one and mended any tears. The pages were resewn and then the pamphlet was digitized. The almanacs are now in much better condition, though they remain somewhat fragile and the library must limit their use and handling. We are thrilled for the opportunity to display a selection of them this month in our special exhibit case.

By Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, December 30, 2019

January Author Talk: Vincent Brown

Tacky's Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War by Vincent Brown
Tuesday, January 14, 2020—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

The State Library’s first author talk of 2020 will feature Harvard Professor Vincent Brown, author of Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War. This new book is scheduled to be released on the same day as our author talk, on Tuesday, January 14.

As described by the publisher, Tacky’s Revolt is a gripping account of the largest slave revolt in the 18th-century British Atlantic world. This uprising laid bare the interconnectedness of Europe, Africa, and America, shook the foundations of empire, and reshaped ideas of race and popular belonging. The book focuses on a movement of enslaved West Africans in Jamaica who organized an uprising in 1760 that featured guerrilla-style warfare and which was part of a more extended borderless conflict that spread from Africa to the Americas and across the island. Tacky’s Revolt traces the roots and reverberations of this insurgency and expands our understanding of the relationships among African, European, and American history.

Author Vincent Brown is the Charles Warren Professor of American History and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Dr. Brown’s first book, The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery, won the James A. Rawley Prize, the Merle Curti Award, and the Louis Gottschalk Prize. His documentary, Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness, which was broadcast nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens, won the John E. O’Connor Film Award and was chosen as Best Documentary at both the Hollywood Black Film Festival and the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival.

We invite you to register today and join us at the State Library at noon on January 14 for Dr. Brown’s talk and book signing.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Our upcoming Author Talks:

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Monday, December 23, 2019

Artificial Intelligence and Libraries

HAL9000 from the movie 2001:
A Space Odyssey.  (Image from
Wikimedia Commons)

artificial intelligence:  a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers (Merriam Webster)

bias:  an inclination of temperament or outlook especially : a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment : PREJUDICE (Merriam Webster)

Back in early November I attended the Law Librarians of New England (LLNE) fall 2019 meeting that focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms in law libraries and legal practice.  AI is and will continue to be a hot topic with the development of “deep fakes,” facial recognition software, Alexa and Siri, targeted advertisement, and self-driving cars.  But how does AI affect libraries and their patrons?

Google’s algorithms use the billions of searches users perform on a daily
bases as data and learn from them in order to predict and/or suggest future searches.

AI has revolutionized both the ways in which we seek information and the speed at which we receive it.  When you use a database or search engine, however, you most likely aren’t thinking about the algorithm that is being used to retrieve results for you, who created the algorithm, and what kind of data it’s drawing from.  I left the fall meeting realizing that everyone should be asking these types questions.  There’s a dangerous expectation that computer and web-based programs are designed to give the user impartial results that represent the truth; however, what if an algorithm intentionally or implicitly reflects the bias of its creator and/or the biases fed into it by its millions of users?  University of Southern California communications professor Safiya Umoja Noble, for her book Algorithms of Oppression, spent 6 years researching Google’s search algorithms and found that the tool not only tends to reflect the values of white western men, who also make up the majority of its builders, but also fails to represent--and even perpetuates negative stereotypes of--minorities and women.  This is a problem that extends far beyond Google, which is why it’s important to consider the objectivity of the pipeline that is delivering information to you.

Another issue with AI is the lack of standardization and transparency.  Librarians love standardization, which is why there are rules for metadata creation that cataloging librarians across the world follow to create access to library materials (for example: MARC records and Library of Congress subject headings).  Library catalog records are usually completely transparent and users can see the “code” used to index an item.

Proprietary companies understandably do not want to share the secret inner workings of their products, but this poses a problem when the user wants to better understand why one database pulls X results while another database pulls Y results, or why the results are listed in a certain order, and most importantly where this data is coming from and if its complete.

Admittedly, I myself still know so little about AI and there are so many different facets and ethical and privacy issues to consider, but what I do know is that it’s important for library users from all backgrounds and disciplines to be aware of the repercussions of too much reliance on it when seeking information.  DON’T assume that AI is smarter than you, DO assume the probability of bias, DON’T assume that it draws from an exhaustive bank of quality data, and DON’T assume that having difficulty finding something in a search engine or database means that it doesn’t exist.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Further reading:

Monday, December 16, 2019

Boston Female Asylum: Records of Benevolence

    December is the time of year that resonates with giving and helping out our fellow neighbor.  The history of benevolence runs deep in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the State Library has the records to show the power of what a small group of women can do to help improve the lives of others.  This blog post highlights the Boston Female Asylum records.  The story of the Boston Female Asylum is about how the act of community organization built an enduring charitable institution.

     The Boston Female Asylum (BFA) was officially established in 1800 and incorporated in 1803. The BFA was the first public charity planned and established by women in the town of Boston.

Photo: Tom Nichols
     In early December of 1799, a letter by Mrs. Hannah Stillman printed anonymously in J. Russell’s
Gazette suggested that the ladies of Boston organize a society similar to one recently established in Baltimore for the care of the “fair fragile form.”

     Mrs. Stillman was the wife of Reverend Dr. Samuel Stillman, of the First Baptist Church of Boston.  The Stillmans had fourteen children and at 60 years of age, Hannah decided to form the Boston Female Asylum Society to help orphaned and destitute girls in Boston.  Although other women joined Mrs. Stillman, it was difficult to a get them to give their names for a published record because it was the first time that women had assembled for any public purpose. 

    The first meeting for the purpose of forming the society was conducted at Mrs. Jonathan  Mason’s (Senator) house.  Mrs. Stillman asked for donations and helped establish a subscriber system where prominent women in the community became members by paying an annual $3.00 subscription fee.  Further donations would be accepted from women and men- “although gentlemen could not be members of this society, their names will be entered with peculiar pleasure on the list of its benefactors.”  The society took off quickly and at the second meeting, the first child, Betsy D. was admitted.

     Seeing so much need in Boston, the BFA developed swiftly and unanimously voted in Hannah Stillman to serve as its first director until her death in 1821.  Rev. Stillman noted at the first anniversary of the founding of the Asylum that girls “are to be placed under the care of a discreet, capable and virtuous Governess.”  When the children reached the age of ten, managers of the Asylum would place the children under the care of “good and virtuous families, till they shall be eighteen.”  During its first year, the BFA took in 13 girls and helped hundreds over the decades.

     The State Library of Massachusetts received the records of the Boston Female Asylum in 1926. The State Librarian, Edward H. Redstone, announced in the Boston Daily Globe how fruitful this collection would be for researchers of all disciplines. This fascinating collection has the register of orphans admitted to the BFA, sermons and other publications, an expense ledger, register of subscribers, donation account and the board of managers meeting records.

     Subscribers and donors over the years included, First Lady Abigail Adams, Mrs. John Quincy Adams, Mrs. Elizabeth Adams wife Governor Sam Adams, and several other well known families of Boston.

     Another very interesting piece of history from this collection is the ledger of monthly expenses.  The ledger shows what food and other necessities were purchased to care for the orphans over the span of several decades.  This documentation was very detailed and helps researchers see what particular items were used during this time and how much it cost to care for all
the girls.

     The BFA was a very active organization that changed with the times. From 1800 to 1811, the children were lodged in houses contracted by managers.  The BFA was first established in a house on Pleasant Street in Boston.  From Pleasant Street, the Asylum moved to Summer Street, then to South Street, and then to Lincoln Street.  In 1811, the Society purchased the estate of Daniel Sargent on or near Lincoln Street for $12,000.  In 1844, the Society purchased a lot in the south part of the city and built its own building.  The cornerstone was laid for this building at 1008 Washington Street on June 25, 1844.

     The volunteer nature of the Asylum gave way to the hiring of professional social workers.  In 1902, all girls were placed in private homes, and the building on Washington Street was closed.  In 1910, the name of the Asylum was changed to the Boston Society for the Care of Girls.  This Society joined with Children’s Aid Society in 1922.  Soon it would form the Children’s Aid Association, later to become Boston Children’s Service Association.  In the 2000s Boston Children’s Services, New England Home for Little Wanders, Parents’ and Children’s Services, and Charles River Health Management merged into The Home for Little Wanders, which provides a variety of services in Massachusetts.

                                                              For further reading:

BFA. (1844). Reminiscences of the boston female asylum. Unpublished manuscript.

Boston Female Asylum. (1989). Boston female asylum: Historical account, by-laws, rules and regulations. Boston: Beacon Press.

Boston female asylum records (1800- 1866) located at the State Library of Massachusetts

Mock, E. (1979). Survey, inventory and guide to the records of the boston female asylum and the boston society for the care of girls. Boston: University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Dava Davainis
Head of Reference