Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Author Talk with Anna Du

The State Library of Massachusetts Author Talks Series is excited to announce Anna Du as our April speaker! Anna is a student, environmental advocate, and top science fair winner!

Please join us on Wednesday, April 10th at noon, in our historic reading room to hear Anna Du discuss her book Microplastics and Me. We will also be livestreaming the talk on our YouTube channel courtesy of the Massachusetts House of Representatives Broadcast Services.

About the book: Anna Du is on a mission to solve the problem of plastics threatening our oceans and Earth. In Microplastics and Me, Anna recounts the challenging and rewarding process to design, engineer, test, and create a system to track microplastics polluting the ocean floor. Anna takes readers through the scientific process and along the way hopes to inspire her peers to go into STEM and take on global climate challenges.

About the author: Anna Du is a Massachusetts high school student. She has won many awards for her work in pollution prevention including placing first in the Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair. Among her many accomplishments, Anna has been named a Top Ten Young Scientist in the US, by Discovery Education and 3M, her work featured in WGBH, Huffington Post, FOX 25 News, Fast Company and Smithsonian Magazine. For more on Anna, and her research, visit her site and check out her YouTube channel, Microplastics Girl, for more!

If you are able to join us in person for this talk, attendees will be able to participate in a question-and-answer session with the author. Books will also be available to purchase; cash or Venmo accepted. As always, this author talk is free and open to all. Assisted listening devices will be made available upon request. Any questions or concerns, please email us at

Want to stay up to date on future Author Talks at the State Library? Join our mailing list. Also follow us on Instagram, X, or Facebook for updates! For more information on the State Library Author talks series, please visit our site.

Author Talks Working Group

Monday, March 25, 2024

Starting A Search in the State Library of Massachusetts Digital Collections

You may have noticed our digital repository once again has an updated look on our landing page. And a new name for our digital repository—the State Library of Massachusetts Digital Collections (SLM Digital Collections for short). Not to worry, nothing has changed with how things are organized so you can still find the documents and other items you need.

In a previous post, we learned about how to browse digital collections in our upgraded digital repository. Today we’re sharing some search tips to help you find what you need. While some of the functionality and appearance of our digital repository features changed significantly during the upgrade to the newest version of the platform, the searching functions remained the same. For patrons who interacted with the version of DSpace we used prior to the upgrade the steps for how to search will seem very familiar. And if this is your first time visiting the SLM Digital Collections, the instructions in this post can help you get started with searching the collections in SLM Digital Collections.

To perform a keyword search on specific collection or community, first go to front page and either type in a keyword or phrase into the basic search box.

Alternatively, you can click the white magnifying glass icon next to it. If you click the white magnifying glass without entering a keyword or phrase the search box, all of the documents in SLM Digital Collections will be returned in the search results.

You can also go directly to the search page by clicking the green magnifying glass in the upper right corner at the top of landing page. The search box next to it functions the same as the larger search box on the landing page. We recommend for searches with one keyword to use the small search box in the upper right corner. For searches with more than one keyword or an entire phrase, we recommend starting with the large search box on the landing page.

Once you are on the results page, you will see a search box at the top center of the page. Click on All of DSpace next to the search box at the top of the page and a pop-up window will appear for choosing to continue to search all of SLM Digital Collections or to narrow the search to a specific community or collection.

If you know the name of the community or collection, type into the pop-up search box part of or the entire name of a community or collection. A dropdown list of will appear and you can select the community or collection you want to perform a search in.

Only one community or collection can be chosen in the pop-up window; more than one community or collection cannot be selected in the pop-up window and need to be run as separate searches.

Now if you had already entered in a keyword or phrase before clicking the magnifying glass icon or pressing Enter, SLM Digital Collections will run the search again with your initial query. This time around it will narrow the results down to the specific community or collection you want to see documents in.

If you hadn’t already entered in a keyword or phrase, and only clicked the magnifying glass icon to get to the results page, enter it in the search box on the results page after selecting the specific community or collection you want to see specific documents in. When you are looking for a specific phrase and want to return documents that only contain a specific phrase be sure to use quotation marks around the phrase to get better results.

If you are feeling stuck at any point while searching for items in SLM Digital Collections, you can reach out to our reference department for assistance by email or by calling calling 617-927-2590. Or if you are visiting our reading room, come up to the reference desk and someone can help you.

Emily Crawford
Technical Services Librarian

Monday, March 18, 2024

The Hunt for Transcripts

When conducting a legislative history, researchers usually want transcripts - transcripts from public hearings, transcripts from the testimony given by experts, or transcripts from legislative sessions. Typed transcripts are ideal when trying to uncover intent, however in Massachusetts tracking down verbatim transcripts can be tricky. When a request comes in for a transcript, I usually like to preface that in the history of the General Court, there has never been an official transcriber. However, transcripts do exist and there have been recent advances when it comes to tracking down what was said on the floor or at a hearing, especially for more current legislation.

Before we look into the online resources and databases that are more conducive to researching the past 10-15 years or so, let’s look at the State Library’s catalog. The catalog encompasses the library’s Massachusetts specific collections. When looking for a transcript using the catalog, it is best to search using keywords rather than a bill number. For example, if you were researching 1882 Senate Bill 0220 An Act For The Preservation Of The Public Health In The Towns Bordering Upon The Blackstone River, And Of The Purity Of The Waters Of Said River regarding sewage pollution from Worcester - search the catalog by using keywords like ‘sewage’ and ‘Worcester.’ The catalog will pull up items like the following hearing transcript and testimony: The sewage of Worcester in its relation to the Blackstone River: hearings before the Joint Standing Committee on Public Health, on the matter of restraining the city of Worcester from polluting Blackstone River.

In a more contemporary example, if you were looking into bills relating to minority and women owned businesses in 1990, search the catalog using terms such as ‘discrimination’ and ‘hearing’ and you will get the following public hearing documents:
These are just some examples of what exists in terms of transcripts and testimony in the State Library’s collections. It is important to note that if the item is available digitally, the catalog will link out directly to the item in the State Library’s digital repository. If the item is only available in print, please reach out to the Reference Department.

Now onto the best online resources for transcripts. With any legislative history, a good place to start is with the Massachusetts Legislature site. It may seem obvious, but the legislature's site provides a lot of information including bills, bill histories, Acts back to 1997, committee reports, recordings of sessions and special events, and more. You can find session and hearing recordings under the Hearing & Events tab; filter by date using the List view. If a recording is available, there will be a little video camera icon. Recordings from more recent sessions will sometimes include the Agenda, a listing of the bills discussed, links to motions such as roll call votes, and sometimes links to meeting documents. While the legislature site is just beginning to implement a transcript feature into the recordings, the next best place to look is MassTrac.

MassTrac is a bill tracking database. The database goes back to 1995, but is better suited for researching the mid-2000s to present. MassTrac has a Transcripts tab. You can search for committee hearings, floor debates, and special commission transcripts. You can also search by selecting the session year and by keyword searching. Once you have selected a recording, you can view it directly in MassTrac. MassTrac has a lot of great features for searching transcripts - after all hearings and sessions can go for hours. To make it easier on the researcher, you can keyword search within the video to bring you to the timestamp where that keyword was discussed or you can click on a word in the typed transcript to jump to it in the video! There is also the option to show/hide non-essential dialogue. MassTrac also provides access to written, submitted testimony and has the option print/download the transcript as a PDF. Masstrac is available to users in-library.

Last but not least is State House News Service. SHNS is an independent reporting service. Its online archive goes back to 1987. Its advanced search filter allows you to keyword search, narrow by date, and has options to search for articles, documents, images, and videos. SHNS service provides session roundups, coverage of hearings and events, and while not verbatim transcripts, these articles will provide direct quotes from legislators which is essential for legislative histories. State House News Service is available to users in-library.

Tracking down transcripts can be hard but always feel free to reach out to the Reference Department. We are here to provide guidance and help you navigate the resources and print collections.

April Pascucci
Legislative Reference Librarian

Monday, March 11, 2024

A Visit to the Mass Room

If you have ever searched our online catalog, you might have come across the shelving location “Mass Room.”

Image of catalog record for the Committee Report of the Massachusetts
Committee on Certification of Lawyer Specialization

Image of inside the Mass Room from
the State Library's Flickr account
The “Mass Room” is the section of our closed stacks that contains published Massachusetts government documents. “Mass Room” is a bit of a misnomer, as the “room” spans multiple floors within the stacks. If you get the chance to visit the library, you can catch a glimpse of the room behind the Reference Desk. A common question we get asked at the Reference Desk is whether that area is open to the public. Sadly, the answer is: no. Only library employees and interns are allowed to access the stacks (unless the State Librarian has given a visitor her expressed permission). Fortunately, for those of you with unquenchable curiosity, the librarians of years-past created an online exhibit that reveals a bit more of what it looks like back there. The photos from the exhibit are available on the Library’s Flickr account and can be accessed here.

“But what exactly are the ‘government documents’ you keep back there, and what is it like to browse the collection?” you might ask. According to M.G.L. ch.6 §39, the materials the Library collects are:

[A]ny document, study, rule, regulation, report, directory, pamphlet, brochure, periodical, newsletter, bibliography, microphotographic form, tape or disc recording, annual, biennial or special report, statistical compendium, or other printed material regardless of its format or manner of duplication, issued in the name of or at the request of any agency of the commonwealth or produced and issued as part of a contract entered into by any agency of the commonwealth regardless of the source of funding, provided they constitute ''public records'' as defined in clause Twenty-sixth of section seven of chapter four, excepting correspondence, blank forms, and university press publications.

The collection is massive and continues to grow. Inside the Mass room, the shelves are jam-packed with the reports, supplements, notices, plans, updates, proceedings, and projects of the various commissions, committees, task-forces, and other agencies that have been created, merged, renamed, or dissolved over the course of the Commonwealth's history.

The documents in the Mass Room are print materials, however, these can exist in a variety of formats, e.g., hardbound or soft bound volumes, binders of looseleaf pages, or even one-page leaflets which we store in envelopes. Everything is organized by its government agency and uses a unique call number system invented by the State Library (sorry, Dewey and LC fans!).

While a lot of our material is digitized and available in our online repository – many documents in the Mass Room remain in paper format only. Visitors are welcome to request to examine these items in our Reading Room at any time during our open hours 9:00am - 5:00pm (you don’t need an appointment, but advanced notice is ideal – you can email us).

Although it can be daunting, the size and complexity of this collection presents our reference librarians with an exciting challenge. Each reference request is an opportunity (for us and our patrons) to learn more about our collections. Often we don’t know we have a specific item or what format it’s in until a patron requests it!

Below are examples of some items you could find while wandering the floors of the Mass Room:

Report of the Commission to Investigate the Subject of the Cold Storage of Food and of Food Products Kept in Cold Storage (January, 1912) 

Initially, I grabbed this report thinking the title said, “Report on Cod Storage,” however, flipping through the report showed that the Commonwealth was concerned about time limits for storing food. I never knew that ammonia was the chemical of choice for refrigerating food.

Gas and Electric Light Commissioners Report (1885-91)

1900s technology made me curious about other groundbreaking technology, so I went further back in time and pulled this Gas Commissioner’s Report from 1890, which is part of a larger bound volume of the agency’s reports. In 1890 the electric lighting business was booming – although there was some skepticism as to whether it was as good as gas lighting. If you’re interested, you can read a full corporate history of gas and electric utilities here (it was compiled last year by the Dept. of Utilities).

Maryellen Larken
Government Documents & Reference Librarian

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Bluebirds for Suffrage - on display in the Library!

For Women's History Month, our featured Audubon for March is plate 393, which shows the Townsend Warbler, Arctic Blue-bird, and Western Blue-bird. At first glance, the connection to women's history might not be obvious, did you know that suffragettes in Massachusetts used the bluebird as a symbol of their movement? The bluebird symbolizes cheer and hope, and was adopted by the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association in 1915. 

A referendum on women's suffrage was on the Massachusetts ballot in 1915, and July 17, 1915 (listed in some sources as July 19) was "Suffrage Blue Bird Day." On this mid-July date, over 100,000 tin bluebirds were pinned throughout the state to show support of the referendum granting women the right to vote. Though actual bluebirds are only six to eight inches long, these colorful blue and yellow tin bluebird signs were twelve inches long by 4 inches wide - a vibrant sign of solidarity for the women's movement! You can see an image of these bluebirds here. The date "Nov 2" at the bottom of the sign references when voters would head to the polls, where unfortunately the referendum failed. Women in Massachusetts did not receive the right to vote until five years later, when the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920. 

Visit us from March 8 to April 4 to see these hopeful and cheerful birds on display, and happy Women's History Month!

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, March 4, 2024

On Display for Women's History Month

March is Women’s History Month, and in honor of that designation, our Collection Spotlight case features two items related to women’s suffrage. Visit us throughout the month to see “The Nonsense of It: Short Answers to Common Objections Against Woman Suffrage” and the 1917 edition of The Woman Suffrage Year Book on display in our reading room.

"The Nonsense Of It" was a circular published circa 1870 and written by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911). Among his many roles, Higginson was an abolitionist, author, Unitarian minister, and for two years, a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives representing the 1st Middlesex District. Beginning in the 1850s, he was also one of the leading male advocates for women’s suffrage. The displayed publication shows us a glimpse into his views. The circular is presented in a list format with 16 reasons why women should not vote, followed by Higginson’s rebuttal of those reasons. A few are transcribed below:

3. “The polls are not decent places for woman.” No place is decent from which women are excluded. Shall we exclude women from the railroad cars, because the smoking-car is apt to be a dirty place? When a man takes his wife daughters into the cars, their presence brings decency. It will be the same at the polls.

6. “Women would only vote as their husbands or fathers do.” Many women have no husbands and no living fathers. If they have, and vote as these men do, there will be no quarrel. If they vote differently – as they are very likely to do on questions of temperance, religion, and the right to control their own property or their own children, – then this objection falls to the ground.

10. “I should not wish to hear my wife speak in Town-meeting.” Nor would she like to hear you, unless you said something better worth saying than most of the talk against Woman Suffrage. But you are often willing to pay other men’s wives to sing in public, and if a woman may properly uplift to sing nonsense, why not to speak sense?

12. “Women are too busy to vote.” Why not say, “Men are too busy to vote?” Men are apt to claim that their own day’s work is harder than that of their wives.

This circular presents rather progressive views for the 1870s! And it is also important to note that women didn’t receive the right to vote until the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920, so this circular was produced fifty years prior to women achieving the right to vote. 

The other displayed item was published in 1917, only three years prior to 19th Amendment. Displayed together, these two items emphasize just how long it took for suffrage to pass. The Woman Suffrage Year Book was published by the National Woman Suffrage Publishing Company and was compiled to provide an accurate and up-to-date recording suffrage statistics. The yearbook is displayed open to the Massachusetts page in the section titled “The Progress of Woman Suffrage Measures in State Legislatures.” It tracks all of the suffrage measures from the first petition presented to the legislature in 1849 to the Suffrage Amendment being passed in the House and Senate in 1915 (before it was submitted to referendum and defeated).

These two items will be on display in our reading room through March 28. And while you’re here, be sure to check out the two other cases in the library that are displaying materials highlighting women’s history, including some resources related to the Irish “Mill Girls” of Lowell. And for even more women’s history content, check out this previous blog post on a 1900s pamphlet titled, “Why Women Should Vote.”

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Friday, March 1, 2024

State Library Newsletter - March Issue

With the new month brings a new newsletter from the State Library! March is Women's Month, and our newsletter is full of information about the displays we have mounted to mark the occasion, along with information about our upcoming Author Talk. Read all about it in our newsletter, and then plan your visit. 

Pictured here is a preview, but the full issue can be accessed by clicking here. And you can also sign up for our mailing list to receive the newsletter straight to your inbox.