Monday, May 23, 2022

Researching Municipal Law

We often receive questions centering on the operation and organization of local governments. These questions can range from researching city zoning laws to how does my town elect school committee members? A good place to start is with the Massachusetts General Laws and locating any relevant governing statues. It is also helpful to understand what type of charter or municipal constitution your local government employs (see previous blog posting on municipal constitutions). You can find your town charter, regulations, and more on your town or city’s local site.

2010 Act, c. 52 - Example of Bridgewater updating
 its town charter through Legislation

Another helpful, secondary resource to understanding municipal law is West’s Massachusetts Practice Series, Municipal Law and Practice volumes. This treatise covers a wide range of local government practice within Massachusetts including topics such as elections, schools, and highways and streets. The State Library offers access to this series through Westlaw (in-library use only). In addition, the State Library’s digital collection of city and town annual reports are also helpful when researching town committees, meetings, budgets, etc.  

Town sites usually end in ‘.gov’ or ‘.org.’ Note the Town Code in lower, right corner.

Please see below for some helpful links and popular resources for conducting municipal
research. For more information or research assistance, contact us at

April Pascucci
Reference Librarian

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Quacky Story behind Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings

    During the month of May many children and their families celebrate Duckling Day in Boston. It coincides with Mother’s Day and has been a tradition for over 30 years. This event celebrates the official children’s book of Massachusetts, Make Way for Ducklings. Every year, hundreds of children parade through Boston’s most beautiful parks, dressed like characters from the story. For the past two years this event was virtual due to the pandemic; this year, however, COVID 19 restrictions have been lifted, so participants were thrilled that they could return to the outdoors and celebrate this uplifting story. This event is one of the many ways in which McCloskey’s book has warmed people’s hearts over the years. 

     First published in 1941, Make Way for Ducklings tells the story of a pair of mallards who raise their brood of ducklings on an island in the lagoon in the Boston Public Garden. This book won the 1942 Caldecott Medal for Illustrations. Since its publication, Make Way for Ducklings has sold millions of copies all over the world.

     McCloskey went on to win another Caldecott Medal in 1957 for his book, Time of Wonder. Make Way for Ducklings, however, is his most well-known book, and it has taken on a life of its own over the years.  

In a 2003 interview, McCloskey recalled what motivated him to write the book:

''I had first noticed the ducks when walking through the Boston Public Garden every morning on my way to art school. When I returned to Boston four years later, I noticed the traffic problem of the ducks and heard a few stories about them. The book just sort of developed from there.''

     While this quote from McCloskey sounds kind of humdrum, the effort he made to make his illustrations perfect is fascinating and quite a funny story. Author and educator Nancy Larrick interviewed Robert McCloskey for an article in 1960 and got the inside scoop about the creative process behind this celebrated classic children’s book.

     After attending art school in Boston, the young struggling artist went to live in New York City.  When he got the idea to write and illustrate Make Way for Ducklings, he went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York to study everything he could about mallard ducks. McCloskey said he studied stuffed birds, skins and nests, and made hundreds of sketches. He said, “But you can’t draw ducks unless you live with them. So I went to old Washington Market to get some of my own.” 

     McCloskey bought a bunch of ducks and went home on the subway with them in a carton. He recalled that when the ducks started quacking, passengers looked at him suspiciously; below is a sketch that McCloskey drew of his experience on the subway with the noisy ducks. 

Robert McCloskey's sketch from N. Larrick's article, 
"Robert McCloskey's 'Make Way for Ducklings'"

     When he arrived home with his new roommates, he let them run around his apartment so he could sketch exactly how they looked in action. McCloskey said, “One trouble was that the ducks go too fast.” He needed to slow them down to make sketches. He said, “The only thing that worked was red wine. They loved it and went into slow motion right away.” Soon neighbors were complaining about quacking noises and water leaking from the ceiling because McCloskey had the ducks swimming in the bathtub, and water was all over the place.

    The author said that living with the ducks caused an unexpected change in the original text.  At first the ducklings were to have such ordinary names as Jane, Sarah, Jim, and so on. After a few weeks with dawn-to-dusk quacking, however, the author realized that the ducklings should have names from their own language. Thus, it was Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack who disturbed the neighbors and now entertain generations of children in Make Way for Ducklings.

     Below are some of his famous sketches of the ducks. We hope this blog post gives you more context and perspective about the work that McCloskey put into perfecting his illustrations.

Sketches courtesy of Boston Public Library/Digital Commonwealth

    McCloskey’s children’s book has made a lasting impression on millions of people, including sculptor Nancy Schon, who paid tribute to McCloskey by creating a bronze sculpture of Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings. This sculpture, entitled “Make Way for Ducklings,” was installed in the Boston Public Garden in 1987 and has been enjoyed by Bostonians and tourists from around the world ever since. Not only is this sculpture a precious gem for Bostonians, but the same sculpture is also a treasure for Muscovites! In 1991 Schon recreated the duck sculpture for former First Lady Barbara Bush. Mrs. Bush offered the sculpture to Raisa Gorbacheva as a symbol of peace during a summit that was part of the START Treaty. This sculpture is now displayed in Moscow’s Novodevichy Park, where children and their families enjoy the ducks as much as Bostonians do. 

Nancy Schon's original "Make Way for Ducklings" 
sculpture in the Boston Public Garden

Russia – "Make Way for Ducklings" sculpture in Moscow's
Novodevichy Park Ducks--a close up" by Barbara L. Slavin,
CC BY-NC 2.0.

    As you can see, McCloskey’s “simple” idea to write and draw a children’s book about a family of ducks not only turned into a classic children’s book, but the story also inspired two world-renowned sculptures, a presidential gesture of peace between two countries, and a time-honored annual parade in Boston. We are very curious what new stories lie ahead for the Mallard Family.

For more information, consult these references:

Dava Davainis
Head of Reference and Information Services

Monday, May 9, 2022

May 18th Virtual Author Talk: Haroon Moghul

Haroon Moghul, author of How To Be A Muslim: An American Story and essay contributor to the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Guardian will talk about his new book, Two Billion Caliphs: A Vision of a Muslim Future, which explains the attraction of Muslims to their faith, discusses the challenges contemporary Islam confronts, and explores how we might imagine an Islamic theology and identity ready to face tomorrow. This free online program is presented in partnership with the Boston Public Library.

About the book:
Two Billion Caliphs advocates for a way of being Muslim in the world, ready for today and prepared for tomorrow. Unlike stale summaries, which restrict themselves to facts and figures, Haroon Moghul presents a deeply Muslim perspective on the world, providing Islamic answers to universal questions: Who are we? What are we doing here? What happens to us when we die? Moghul describes what Islam has been and what it is, who its heroes are, what its big ideas are, but not only to tell you about the past or the present, but to speak to the future. Two Billion Caliphs finds that Islam was a religion of intimacy, a faith rooted in and reaching for love, and that it could be and should be again. Fulfilling that destiny depends on the efforts of Muslims to reclaim their faith, rebuild their strength, and reimagine their future, on their own terms.

About the author:
Haroon Moghul is a thought leader, professor, public speaker, and Friday preacher, whose work explores the intersections of pop culture, philosophy, futurism, and faith. A one-time stand-up comic in New York City (literally, just that one time) and award-winning writer, his essays have been featured by the New York Times, NPR’s Fresh Air, CNN, Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and the Guardian, among many others. Not long after publishing his most recent book, How To Be A Muslim: An American Story, he moved to suburban Cincinnati, where he’s become an enthusiastic soccer dad.

To register for this free online event, please visit this link. Additionally, to order a copy of this book from Trident Booksellers and Cafe, one of the Boston Public Library’s community bookstore partners, please visit this link. Use coupon code BPLSHIP for free media mail delivery! 

Author Talks Committee
State Library of Massachusetts

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Friends of the Library Newsletter – May issue

Want to know what’s happening at the State Library? Then check out our May newsletter, out now! Pictured here is a preview, but the full version can be accessed by clicking here. And you can also sign up for our mailing list to receive the newsletter straight to your inbox.

Monday, May 2, 2022

On Display in the State Library

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, so as we were preparing to change the item in our monthly display case we wanted to select something from our collection that would align with that designation. On exhibit throughout the month of May are the 1930 and the 1931 Chinese Directory of New England, published by Hop Yuen Company at 14 Oxford Street in Boston, which was also the home of the United Chinese Association. 

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month began as just a ten-day long celebration in early May of 1978 before it was expanded by Congress in 1992 so that it would last the entire month. According to a website, the week was initially established to “coincide with two important milestones in Asian/Pacific American history: the arrival in the United States of the first Japanese immigrants (May 7, 1843) and contributions of Chinese workers to the building of the transcontinental railroad completed May 10, 1869.” Asian immigrants arrived in Boston and New England a little bit later than that, the City of Boston has recorded that the first influx of Chinese immigrants were single men who arrived in 1873 to work in a factory in North Adams. By the time these directories were published nearly fifty years later, the Chinese population in New England had greatly increased.

The New England directories in our collection date to 1930 and 1931, and both are on display in our main library reading room. The directories list Chinese owned businesses by category for each New England state, along with many advertisements, a few of which are pictured below. The bulk of the advertisements are for Chinese owned businesses, like the one below left that features two restaurants in Boston’s Chinatown. But there are also a fair amount for non-Chinese owned businesses, like the one below right. Freeman O. Emerson (general insurance) and Dublin Brothers (cigars and tobacco) both took out ads in the directory and wrote about their services in Chinese to reach new audiences. The advertisements for non-Chinese owned businesses written in Chinese show that business owners acknowledged the importance of New England’s Chinese residents as a vital part of the community and economy. 

 In addition to the bi-lingual business listings and advertisements, the directories also included welcome letters by the Massachusetts Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Boston Mayor, along with essays on immigration and trade, and a list of Chinese students enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. In the 1931 directory, the letter from Boston Mayor James Curley was addressed to Mr. Wong C. Poy, and a search of his name lead us to a Boston Globe article published on May 5, 1931 about the publication of this directory. The article identifies Mr. Poy as a prominent Chinatown merchant and as the compiler behind this directory. We can assume that he wrote the preface, which explains the impetus behind this directory as follows, “for the past few years, the ever-growing Chinese population in this section of the country has been demanding a concise and complete directory of their nationals in New England” and that “practically every city or town of any importance, within the confines of New England, numbers among its merchants, a Chinese laundry, restaurant, or store.” The need for a directory of this nature, which both served as a valuable resource for Chinese residents and helped non-Chinese business reach a Chinese audience that might have otherwise been unattainable, highlights the role that Chinese Americans played in New England in the early 20th-century as their population grew in size. 

Visit the library this month to see these directories in person and learn more about Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month here.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, April 25, 2022

Preservation Week at the State Library

Happy Preservation Week! This week is a time to raise awareness about the importance of preservation both in our professional library and archives settings, and your personal collections at home. Each year, the State Library marks the week with daily preservation content on our social media platforms.

We’re starting the week off by following up on a post from last year. In February 2020, a staff member was looking through a bound volume of 1822-1824 Old Colony Memorial (OCM) newspapers and came across four fern fronds pressed between the pages. We shared the find during Preservation Week and explained the preservation measures that we would take after the ferns’ discovery. Since the OCM is still an active publication, when they saw this post they reached out, asked some follow-up questions, and then wrote about the find. You can read that article here

When the ferns were shared last year, State Library staff was still working remotely so we were unable to take any further preservation actions at the time, and the ferns remained in place. Now that staff has returned to the library, we’ve been able to focus on completing this task. We began by going through the entire bound volume to make sure that there was no additional material hidden within the pages, and it’s a good thing that we did! In addition to the ferns that we knew about, we also found another set of fronds, seeds, and a selection of leaves. Someone clearly used this volume to press a variety of items that they found in nature! 

Each find was photographed to document the original placement, with a notation of the page number. We then carefully removed each item using a microspatula and tweezers. The items were placed on a piece of permalife paper cut to size, with the page number written on it in pencil. Each item was then encapsulated in a polyester sleeve. Finally, all the items were placed in a box, along with a folder of the photographs, and a folder containing a copy of the OCM newspaper article and factsheet that we had provided to the reporter. The box was labeled and stored with the bound volume. 

Some might question why we go to lengths to preserve these materials. Admittedly, they don’t add research value to the volume of newspapers, and we don’t even know who placed them or when (though if you clicked through to read the OCM article you’ll see that we have some guesses, and that this find did lead us to do some further research into the volume’s provenance). But we save them for the hidden history that they represent, and for the personal connection that they add to an item in our collection. We know that at some point in the newspaper’s history, whether it was during the binding process in the 1940s or by a librarian working with the volumes at a later date, someone removed this flora from its natural environment, carefully transported them to where the bound volume was held and placed them within the pages so that they would be pressed and preserved. Many of us can relate to this and recall at least one time when we’ve come across an item in nature that struck us and we wanted to preserve it in this manner. Since we’ve disturbed these items from their original resting spot, the least we can do is document that location and keep the items in archivally sound storage along with the volume.  

We use Preservation Week as a time not just to talk about the preservation measures that we undertake in our library, but to draw attention to the more personal ways that we all preserve the items that make up our own history. We hope that some of the tips that we share for our library collection are useful and applicable when working with your own collection. Follow along on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as we celebrate Preservation Week 2022, and if you have any preservation questions, reach out to us by email ( or comment on any of our posts! 

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

May 10th Virtual Author Talk: Dennis Duncan


Please join us on Tuesday, May 10th for a virtual author talk with Dennis Duncan as he discusses his aptly titled new book, Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age.

Ever wonder about the creation of the index? Duncan chronicles the history of the index from the thirteenth century to present day – mixing in humor and surprising facts along the way.                           

Duncan is a writer and lecturer in English at University College London. His other works include, Book Parts, coeditor, and The Oulipo and Modern Thought

Please note the start time of the event is 3PM, as the author is joining us from London!

Author Talks Committee
State Library of Massachusetts