Monday, July 6, 2015

No Question Too Great Or Too Small

Finding information, no matter how minute, is something librarians take very seriously—and it can be incredibly rewarding for all parties involved.  One of my favorite questions was based on a small, unassuming pamphlet on a now-defunct Maine railroad company.  Titled Mortgage Deed From Sandy River R.R. [Railroad] Co. to John H. Kimball, Payson Tucker, Nathaniel B. Beal, the 8 page pamphlet was published in 1885 and is currently housed in only two known libraries in the U.S. (including the State Library of MA).  A researcher, thrilled to be able to access this seemingly rare title, went on to ask a question that is not often asked of us: “How in the world did the library acquire this pamphlet?”

It was a good question, and one that required just a little Sherlock Holmesian deduction to answer.  During the mid-19th to early 20th centuries, the State Library published annual reports that provide lists of new acquisitions added to the collection for each year.  In addition to the titles, the information also includes how it was acquired: either by donation, exchange, purchase, or from government officers.  Although the pamphlet was printed in 1885, it had a library stamp with the date “OCT 7 1891” on the front—the date it was either received or processed by the library.  I looked in the library’s annual report for 1891 and was at first disappointed that it was not included in the acquisition list.  However, October is pretty late in the year; I wondered if this title would be found on the list provided in the 1892 annual report.  I quickly flipped the pages until I found it:

Sandy River Railroad Company
.  Mortgage deed to J. K. Kimball, Payson Tucker, N. B. Beal. h.t.p. [1885.] 8o.  8p.  [3, J. H. Drummond, Portland.]

The number 3 was code that it was acquired “by donation,” and that J.H. Drummond of Portland, ME was the donor.  Drummond’s name was familiar to the researcher as he was in some way affiliated with the railroad company (the specifics escape me now).  He was also known to have been in Boston in October of 1891, and this entry from the library’s annual report now corroborated this fact.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Librarian