Monday, September 13, 2021

Commonwealth Watch Party with Isabel Wilkerson and Conversation with Byron Rushing and Roopika Risam

Register Online

You’re invited to a statewide watch party! Join us on Wednesday, September 22, at 7pm to watch Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson as she discusses her new book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, in a video recorded for the National Book Festival. Then you’ll get the chance to join in a live community conversation led by former Massachusetts Representative Byron Rushing and Salem State University Professor Roopika Risam

This free online event is brought to you by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and libraries across the Commonwealth, in collaboration with the Library of Congress and the National Book Festival 2021. Open to all, this “Festival Near You” event promises to be a lively and informed discussion of the diversity, equity, and inclusion issues sparked by Wilkerson's analysis.  

Isabel Wilkerson is the author of The Warmth of Other Suns, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Stephen Ambrose Oral History Prize and the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction. Her second book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, made its way to the top of The New York Times bestseller list. In 1994 she received the Pulitzer Prize in journalism for her work with The New York Times, and in 2016 President Barack Obama awarded Wilkerson the National Humanities Medal for "championing the stories of an unsung history."

Byron Rushing served for 36 years in the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a leader in the Boston delegation, rising to the position of Majority Whip. During his tenure, Representative Rushing advocated for and sponsored bills in the areas of health care, civil, human and gay rights, justice reform, drug addiction, and gun safety, among other initiatives to promote social and economic justice in the Commonwealth. He was a founding member of the Library Caucus in the Legislature and served as a Trustee of the Boston Public Library. Prior to his time in the legislature, Rushing was active in the civil rights movement, working for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and also served as director of the Urban Change Program at the Urban League and as President of the Museum of African American History. 

Roopika Risam is Chair of Secondary and Higher Education and Associate Professor of Education and English at Salem State University. Widely published, supported, and cited for her scholarship in postcolonial and African diaspora studies and humanities knowledge infrastructures, Dr. Risam is developing “The Global Du Bois,” a data visualization project on W.E.B. Du Bois. She also serves as editor or officer of numerous organizations promoting social justice, feminism, digital humanities, ethnic studies, and change in higher education. Her latest collection is The Digital Black Atlantic. She also cohosts “Rocking the Academy,” a podcast featuring interviews which explore the future shape of higher education. In 2018, the Massachusetts Library Association awarded its inaugural Civil Liberties Champion Award to Dr. Risam for her progress in promoting equity and justice in the digital cultural record.

You may participate fully in the live community conversation without having read Caste in its entirety. For background, you may wish to consult the information below: 

To register, please visit: 

Author Talks Committee
State Library of Massachusetts

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Labor Day Legacy

Today, Labor Day is generally when many Americans take a break from working and enjoy a nice long three-day weekend. But why are we able to enjoy leisure on Labor Day, and how did this holiday come to be? The state and then federally approved holiday was created during a long battle for workers’ rights throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.

During the period now known as the Industrial Revolution, many states moved from a primarily agrarian economy to that based on industry and manufacturing, and business was booming. In Massachusetts, textile manufacturing became the dominant industry, and many of the commonwealth’s current towns originated as mill towns: settlements that developed around a mill or factory. Lowell, Massachusetts was the first large scale factory town in the United States and it was originally praised as the “cradle of the American Industrial Revolution.” Demand for textiles and other manufactured goods continued to rise during the 19th century, and production superseded working conditions in importance. Many workers would work 12 or more hours each day in crowded and cramped factories. As conditions continued to decline, factory workers began to organize and ask for higher pay, better and safer conditions, and shorter hours. Often, factories would employ children and new immigrants to the United States who would work for less and were generally less likely to strike.

Female mill workers (1910).
Courtesy of the Lawrence History Center.

As more and more workers joined together to fight for better conditions, the labor movement grew throughout the country. Activists and organizations wanted not only better conditions in the factories, but also recognition for the workers who were the backbone of the new industrial economy. In 1882, union leaders in New York organized the first Labor Day parade, where 10,000 workers marched through the city streets and enjoyed festivities such as speeches, fireworks, and dancing. In February 1887, Oregon became the first state to designate Labor Day as an official holiday, and Massachusetts was right behind them, passing their own holiday designation a few months later in May.

Chapter 263 of the Acts and Resolves of 1887 designating
the first Monday of September as Labor’s Holiday, or Labor Day.

However, the creation of Labor Day did not end the worker’s rights and labor movements – far from it. Strikes continued throughout the United States, and often the suppression of these strikes broke out into violence. In May 1886, the Haymarket Riot in Chicago saw days of demonstrations marked with violence between workers demanding an eight-hour day and police ordering the crowd to disperse. On May 4, a bomb detonated, killing both civilians and police officers. This violent event inspired many socialist activists to declare May Day, not Labor Day, the holiday honoring worker’s rights. However, the background of May Day was perceived as too radical, and President Cleveland urged state legislatures to recognize the September Labor Day instead.

Lawrence strike, strikers, 1912. Courtesy of the Lawrence History Center.

Despite these holidays, strikes, demonstrations, and clashes with local government and law enforcement continued throughout the United States. In an attempt to placate strikers and activists, the U.S. Government made Labor Day a federal holiday in 1894, but many activists saw the holiday designation as little more than a conciliatory act. The labor movement continued to grow, expanding throughout factories, mills, and other industries. Massachusetts would continue to be a battleground for workers’ rights, with the most famous events being the Bread and Roses Strike (or Lawrence Textile Strike) in 1912 and the Boston Police Strike in 1919. You can find more information on these strikes and others in the State Library’s exhibit One Hundred Years Ago: Massachusetts in 1919. In response to many of these events, the Massachusetts state government created commissions such as the Minimum Wage Commission, which published reports on wages in different industries. Read our blog post about the minimum wage in Massachusetts here.

The United States would finally pass the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, in which the federal government created a minimum wage, mandated shorter work weeks, and created restrictions on child labor. Labor Day remains on the American calendar as an early testament to the workers who built the United States and fought for the rights and benefits that we enjoy at our jobs today.

Further Reading: 

Related State Library Blogs and Collections:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Friends of the Library Newsletter - September issue

The September issue of the Friends of the Library newsletter is out! Click here to download your own copy.

Monday, August 30, 2021

On (Virtual) Display at the State Library

It goes without saying that we’re big fans of all the Commonwealth’s many libraries, so we’re happy to share this map, Public Libraries of Massachusetts, as our September featured collection item. September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, designated as such by the American Library Association. It’s a great time to visit your local branch, which might be depicted on this map, and see what wonders you can experience with a library card!

Published in 1904, this map of the Commonwealth’s libraries was designed and drawn with pen and ink by George Hartnell Bartlett. It shows the boundary lines for each town, and each town that includes a library also has a small but intricate drawing of said library. A larger drawing at the bottom of the map shows the Boston Public Library, along with circulation and volume statistics.  Bartlett created other versions of this map in both 1893 and 1914.

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners shared this map in 2015 as part of a timeline celebrating 125 years of service. On the timeline, they cite a reference to the map in the Fifteenth Report of the Free Public Library Commission, which we have available in DSpace. The report states, “The skilful [sic] hand of Prof. George H. Bartlett, principal of the Normal Art School, prepared for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition a large map of the State, containing pen and ink drawings of over 250 of our library buildings in the towns they serve. This map attracted great attention during the continuance of the fair at St. Louis, and will form a portion of the State exhibit at the coming Lewis and Clarke [sic] Exposition. It was awarded the grand prize at St. Louis. A reduced copy of the map forms a portion of this report.” The map was included as a folded insert at the beginning of the report, but the copy in our collection has been removed from the report so that it could be flattened and stored in a separate enclosure. From a preservation standpoint, we recommend removing folded inserts so that they don’t wear, and potentially tear, along crease lines.  

In the report mentioned above, George Hartnell Bartlett is referenced as principal of the Normal Art School, which was the original name of what is now known as the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. The Normal Art School was founded in 1873 and is the oldest art school in the country. In addition to serving as an art instructor and drawing maps, Bartlett was also the author of Pen and Ink Drawing: A Series Of Drawings Showing Its Perfect Adaptability To The Modern Processes Of Reproduction, a copy of which can be found in our Special Collections holdings. 

For a closer look at the map, you can click on the above image. And for an even closer examination, a high-resolution copy of this map can be found through the Boston Public Library’s Leventhal Map Center. Click around to find the library from your own hometown or from a neighboring town. It is interesting to see what each library retains of its original elements, and to compare how they have grown and changed over the years. 

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, August 23, 2021

Massachusetts State Budgets From FY1919 to Current Now Compiled Into One Helpful Resource

The State Library recently compiled links to full copies of Massachusetts general appropriations acts (state budgets), starting from FY1919 up through FY2022 (the most current).  We’re happy to report that this resource is now available on our website!  We hope that this new and continually updated document will allow researchers and the public to locate past and present budget acts more easily and quickly.  Please note that supplemental budgets are not included in this resource; however, they can be searched for using the databases highlighted in the document.

For more information about the current budget process in Massachusetts, visit our webpage on the subject.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, August 16, 2021

August 24th Virtual Author Talk: Adam Stern MD

Register Online

Join us in partnership with the Boston Public Library for an online talk with Adam Stern, MD, author of Committed: Dispatches from a Psychiatrist in Training. This discussion will be moderated by Suzanne Koven, MD, writer-in-residence at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Adam Stern recounts his four-year psychiatry residency at Harvard Medical School in his heartfelt memoir, which brings readers along as he and his fellow doctors make the rounds on psychiatric wards, grapple with impostor syndrome, navigate their personal lives, and experience love and loss.

With compassionate portraits of his psychiatry patients and honest ruminations on the physical and emotional toll of a medical residency, Stern pulls back the curtain on what it’s like to be a doctor tasked with healing the mind. Candid, sometimes raw, and always entertaining, this memoir celebrates human connection through the eyes of a new doctor.

Photo by Kate McKenna,
Crabapple Photography
Adam Stern, MD, is a psychiatrist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He has written extensively about his experience as a physician including in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the American Journal of Psychiatry. He lives with his family near Boston.

Suzanne Koven, MD, is a primary care physician and the inaugural writer-in-residence at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her memoir, Letter to a Young Female Physician, was released in May 2021. To learn more, visit her website and find her on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram).

To register for this free online event, please visit: 

Be sure to check out other upcoming events hosted by our partner:  

Author Talks Committee
State Library of Massachusetts

Monday, August 9, 2021

August 17th Virtual Author Talk: Scott Borchert

An immersive account of the New Deal project that created state-by-state guidebooks to America, in the midst of the Great Depression—and employed some of the biggest names in American letters. 

The plan was as idealistic as it was audacious, and utterly unprecedented. Take thousands of hard-up writers and put them to work charting a country on the brink of social and economic collapse, with the aim of producing a series of guidebooks to the then forty-eight states—along with hundreds of other publications dedicated to cities, regions, and towns—while also gathering reams of folklore, narratives of formerly enslaved people, and even recipes. With this effort, America was documented, its families and their sensibilities brought to life by such celebrated authors as Nelson Algren, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Wright. Don’t miss Scott Borchert’s discussion with genealogist Rhonda McClure about this remarkable, history-making Federal Writers’ Project, part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)’s New Deal initiative.

Scott Borchert is a writer and editor based in New Jersey and a former assistant editor at the book publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He holds a master’s degree in cultural reporting and criticism from the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, and his work has appeared in Southwest Review, Monthly Review, The Rumpus, PopMatters, Brooklyn Magazine, and other publications.   

Rhonda McClure is the senior genealogist at American Ancestors/NEHGS. She has been a contributing editor for Heritage Quest Magazine and Biography magazine and contributed to The History Channel Magazine and American History Magazine. She is the author of ten books, including the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy.

To register for this free online event, please visit:

Be sure to check out other upcoming events hosted by our partner: 

Author Talks Committee
State Library of Massachusetts