Monday, October 30, 2017

Quiet in the library – or else!

Did you know that it is illegal to cause a ruckus in a library in Massachusetts?

Of the many stereotypes connected to libraries, the need for absolute quiet (and therefore the shushing librarian) is by far the most prevalent. In Massachusetts, this stereotype was practically applied when the Massachusetts Legislature passed an 1885 law against disturbing those assembled in a public library or reading room:

While the fine has been increased from $50 to $100, this law continues to be part of the current chapter of laws entitled “Crimes against Chastity, Morality, Decency, and Order” (MGL Chapter 272 Section 41).

Were libraries such rowdy places in the 1800’s that legislators saw these laws as necessary? The Representative that introduced the law, Clement K. Fay, was a donor to the Brookline Public Library and therefore may have had personal interests in discouraging disturbances in Massachusetts libraries. In 1886, the Boston Daily Globe published an article entitled, “Theft and Mutilation: Dangers to Which All Libraries Are Subject.” The article focused on the theft of library materials and the patrons that cut out pamphlets, engravings, and illustrations from valuable library items rather than those that caused disturbances in public places. Caleb Tillinghast, a past State Librarian whose exploits were mentioned in another State Library of Massachusetts blog post, was interviewed for this article and said, “The greatest danger to which libraries are subject from their patrons is mutilation by picture cranks – I mean men who have a passion for collecting portraits or engravings. You can’t trust a biography or magazine with them. First thing you know they will tear out a page containing a picture, map, or some kind of illustration. Of course I do not mean to say that all collectors of engravings are inclined to acts of vandalism, but it is a fact that with many of them the passion is so strong as to overcome all scruples of honesty or propriety. You cannot catch them at it either, except by a lucky accident, and unless caught in the act they can never be convicted.”

A busy day in the State Library, 1912.

This concern with vandalism inspired two other Massachusetts General Laws that remain on the books to this day. In 1883, the Legislature passed a law which made it illegal to “willfully and maliciously or wantonly and without cause detain any book [etc]” and that such action “shall be punished by a fine… or imprisonment in the jail not exceeding six months.” That is certainly a hefty punishment for a late library book! This law went on to form the basis of the current law against the “mutilation or destruction of materials or property” in libraries (MGL Chapter 266, Section 100). This law, as well as one regarding the theft of materials or destruction of records in libraries (MGL Chapter 266, Section 99A, was further amended as recently as 1990.

In the same article mentioned previously, an unnamed Boston Public Library librarian stated that, “Emmently respectable people, professional men, are sometimes caught in the act” of stealing library materials. While the development of library materials and security may suggest that these types of laws are antiquated, issues with vandalism and disturbances in libraries continues to be a contemporary issue. A recent case is described in the 2014 book The Map Thief by Michael Blanding, concerning Forbes Smiley III. A former professional map dealer, Smiley was convicted of stealing from libraries around the world, including Harvard’s Houghton Library and the Boston Public Library, in 2006.

Michael Blanding discussing The Map Thief  in the State Library as
part of our 2015-2016 Author Talk Series

Thankfully, we at the State Library are not aware of anyone being charged with or convicted of disturbing our library. As always, our reading room, Room 341 of the State House, is open 9am – 5pm for quiet researchers, visitors, and other members of the public. We hope to see you soon!

"THEFT AND MUTILATION." Boston Daily Globe (1872-1922): 3. Jun 17 1886. ProQuest. Web. 5 Sep. 2017.

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, October 23, 2017

November Author Talk: Stephen Kinzer

The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain,
and the Birth of American Empire, by Stephen Kinzer 
Monday, November 6, 2017—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

The State Library invites you to our next author talk to hear award-winning journalist Stephen Kinzer speak about his latest book: The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire. Join us at noon on Monday, November 6, for this talk from the journalist who, according to the Washington Post, is “among the best in popular foreign policy storytelling.”

Published earlier this year, The True Flag tells the story of America’s “first and greatest” debate about the possibility of imperial expansion, which occurred over a century ago at the end of the Spanish-American War. This question of America’s role in the world was hotly debated by some of the country’s best-known political and intellectual leaders, including Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, Booker T. Washington, and Mark Twain. According to the publisher’s description of the book, “All Americans, regardless of political perspective, can take inspiration from the titans who faced off in this epic confrontation. Their words are amazingly current. Every argument over America’s role in the world
grows from this one.”

Author Stephen Kinzer worked for more than twenty years as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, writing from and serving as the bureau chief in such locations as Nicaragua, Germany, and Turkey. After leaving the Times in 2005, Mr. Kinzer taught at Northwestern University and Boston University, and he is now a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. Additionally, Mr. Kinzer currently writes a column on world affairs for the Boston Globe.

Mr. Kinzer will be offering copies of The True Flag for sale and signing at the conclusion of his talk at the State Library.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Leaf-Peepers Among Us

“Leaf-peeping” is a uniquely New England term, meaning the activities during which one travels to observe the beautiful changing colors of the foliage during the autumn season. Because of the beauty of our forests and woods, Massachusetts and its surrounding states are inundated with leaf-peeping tourists throughout autumn, particularly in October, and it is not uncommon to see tour companies advertising “leaf-peeper tours” or “leaf-peeper rides.” But where does this tradition come from?

Lithograph: Autumnal scenery, view in Amherst (1833),
Courtesy of Jones Library Special Collections

New Englanders have always been proud of the spectacular beauty of our local forests. “Europeans coming to America are surprised by the brilliancy of our autumnal foliage. There is no account of such a phenomenon in English poetry, because the trees acquire but few bright colors there,” Thoreau wrote for an essay in the Atlantic in 1862. He continues, “October is the month of painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall, so the year near its setting. October is its sunset sky; November the later twilight.”

The specific phrase “leaf-peeper” appears to have evolved from “leaf-peeker,” originating in Vermont around the 1900’s. In 1966, “leaf peeper” appeared in print for the first time in a column of Vermont newspaper The Bennington Banner entitled “Thoughts of a Leaf Peeper,” which described the beauty of Vermont’s foliage. The same edition of that paper also included an editorial article discussing traffic caused by those chasing the fall foliage and mentions a disgruntled local’s car boasting a sign: “Tourists Go Home!” (Peterson). Traffic issues that accompany leaf-peeping season have always plagued the areas where the foliage is best. The pamphlet below from 1978 recommends “shunpiking” during foliage season, that is, avoiding turnpikes and using side roads to get to one’s destination.

Pamphlet from the State Library's Collection:
"Massachusetts Foliage: the Irresistible Beauty of Nature" (1978)

New England isn’t the only place to which tourists traditionally travel to witness spectacular foliage. Traveling to view spectacular fall foliage has become a tradition throughout the United States and throughout the world. In fact, the same activity that we know as “leaf-peeping” is known as momijigari in Japan, meaning “autumn leaf hunting.” This cultural activity is also referred to as koyo, meaning “fall colors” or “colorful leaves,” or kanpukai, meaning “getting together to enjoy the autumn foliage” (

Fall Foliage in the Boston Public Garden (2015)
Photograph by Alexandra Bernson

While the origins of the New England phrase “leaf-peeping” may have been derogatory, the phrase “leaf-peeper” has lost much of its negative connotation today. The activity of leaf-peeping has become so popular that there are entire guidebooks and websites dedicated to it. For example, publishes information regarding peak foliage time and scenic drives or vistas that best show off an area’s foliage. Massachusetts’ Department of Conservation and Recreation has a webpage dedicated to Fall Foliage Season in the Parks and the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism’s website includes an interactive InstaFoliage page that shows off different leaf-peeping driving routes throughout the state. And if you didn’t know about these resources, almost every newspaper in New England publishes some sort of guide every year, such as the Boston Globe’s “Six of the Prettiest New England towns for leaf peeping” and’s  “Your ultimate guide to New England fall foliage.”

Where are your favorite leaf-peeping spots in Massachusetts?

Further reading:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference staff

Monday, October 9, 2017

Best Practices Exchange: 2017 Conference

This November the Best Practices Exchange conference is being held in Boston and co-hosted by the State Library of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Archives, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute.  The theme for this year’s conference will focus on topics relating to “Balancing Preservation and Engagement.”

What is the Best Practices Exchange (BPE)?  The BPE is a community of librarians, archivists, records managers and other information professionals that are dedicated to managing and preserving digital government information.  Once a year there is a 3-day informal gathering (an ‘un’conference) held in a selected location in the U.S. that allows the community to gather and learn new information, exchange ideas and experiences, and see how other institutions are tackling issues with digital management and preservation in government and non-government settings.

Are you a part of this community and want more information about the BPE and the 2017 conference?

When:  November 6-8, 2017
Where:  Columbia Point in Boston, Massachusetts

Questions or comments?
Contact:  Veronica Martzahl, BPE Co-Chair
Phone: 617-727-2816 ext. 258

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Staff

Monday, October 2, 2017

October Author Talk: Steven A. Rosenberg

Middle Class Heroes: Voices from Boston's Suburbs
by Steven A. Rosenberg 
Thursday, October 19, 2017—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

Our next author talk features the acclaimed journalist and editor Steven A. Rosenberg, author of Middle Class Heroes: Voices from Boston’s Suburbs. Join us at noon on Thursday, October 19, to hear Mr. Rosenberg speak about this recently published book, which is a collection of his most intriguing articles from his 2001-2016 tenure at the Boston Globe.

Middle Class Heroes presents the personal stories of everyday people living in Salem, Somerville, Lynn, and other Boston suburbs. These vignettes feature individuals from all walks of life, including a WWI veteran from Swampscott, a fisherman from Gloucester, and even Mr. Rosenberg’s father, Sam, who ran a deli in Chelsea and whose portrait graces the cover of  Middle Class Heroes.

Prior to his work at the Boston Globe, Mr. Rosenberg served as the editor of The Jewish Advocate and also worked as a documentary filmmaker whose works have been featured on such media outlets as PBS, CBS, and ESPN. After having spent fifteen years as a reporter, columnist, and photographer for the Boston Globe, Mr. Rosenberg is now the editor and publisher of the Jewish Journal.

Mr. Rosenberg will be offering copies of Middle Class Heroes for sale and signing at the conclusion of his talk at the State Library.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian