Monday, June 30, 2014

Files and Indexes: Ms. Coll. 88 - The Burrill File

It’s not uncommon for libraries, or other institutions concerned with the collection and accessibility of information, to have home-made files and indexes in their collections; in fact, the State Library has many that were created by our own staff members over the years to assist with research questions. Files served to collect and organize subject-specific, often ephemeral, materials that were considered informational but supplementary to published items that could more easily be found within a card catalog.  Items such as pamphlets, brochures, newspaper clippings, photographs, and even menus are examples of what one might find in a file.
Zimmer index card with citations to newspapers covering
Pres. Theodore Roosevelt's Oath of Office at Buffalo, NY. (1901)
In the same vein, indexes aimed to organize bits of information for a specific purpose—often accompanied by citations to other resources for further research.  For example, our Zimmer newspaper indexes, covering the years 1878-1937 and 1962-1978, focus on what were the current events of those time periods.  It’s important to note that the terms “file” and “index” are sometimes used interchangeably, especially with index card formats.

These home-made files and indexes were labors of love (emphasis on the word labor), but with the emergence of computers and databases that can perform complex searches and organization for us, as well as companies that compile annotations and citations for us, they are not as commonly found today.  However, that isn't to say that they aren't tremendously useful.

Sergeant-at-Arms Thomas F. Pedrick turns the
first sod, marking the beginning of the construction
of the East Wing of the State House.
From the Burrill File. (1914)
One of my favorite files in the State Library is the Burrill File (a.k.a. Ms. Coll. 88)  It is one of my go-to resources for historical materials—materials that I will not find in our regular stacks—relating to the Massachusetts State House, state government, and political figures.  This large and fascinating collection, which includes everything from photographs to correspondence, newspaper clippings to pamphlets, was compiled by author and historian Ellen Mudge Burrill (1872?-1937).  Burrill, who penned a number of guides to the State House, was compelled to document particular events of her day for her own research and other purposes; it is not uncommon to find items, such as photographs, that she herself created for later use.  After her death in 1937, the collection has continued to grow with new items added frequently by State Library staff members.

You can access the Burrill File finding aid online in our DSpace electronic documents repository: For more information, please contact our Special Collections Department at 617-727-2595.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department