Monday, April 29, 2024

Preservation Week at the State Library!

Happy Preservation Week! Established by the American Library Association in 2005, Preservation Week is a yearly event that raises awareness for preservation work undertaken in library, archives, and museums to safeguard our shared cultural heritage. Preservation Week is also a time to encourage the public to think about actions that they can take to protect their own personal collections. This year, it is celebrated from April 28 through May 4 with the theme "Preserving Identities." 

In our Collection Spotlight case, we’re kicking off Preservation Week by highlighting an item that has benefited from preservation work and also aligns with May’s designation as Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) month. Last year, we shared a few facsimiles from an album titled “Photographs of Schools,” which was produced by the Hawaii Department of Education and donated to the State Library in July 1924. It comprises seventeen photographs of Hawaiian schools, teachers, and students dating from sometime between 1897 and 1922. This year, we’re sharing the album itself in our Collection Spotlight case. The reason that we can share the actual item instead of facsimiles is because our Collection Spotlight case is specifically designed to protect exhibited items. One of the largest threats to archival items is light damage, from both natural and artificial light sources, which accumulates over time and cannot be reversed. As such, it is optimal for archival items to remain in dark storage unless they are being accessed by a researcher - but this at odds with the desire to display archival items! Luckily, our Collection Spotlight case has been designed with this in mind, and its glass panel is “SmartGlass” which has UV filters and a layer of light-controlling film. When not in use, the glass portion of the case is dark, until it is activated by a button which lights the case for 30 seconds. This allows the case to remain dark for the majority of the time but illuminated when a visitor wants to view the exhibited item, allowing us to safely display even our more sensitive items, like the photograph album we’re sharing this month. Regular readers of our blog may have noticed that the contents of our Collection Spotlight case changes every month. This is another preventative preservation measure, as a monthly exhibit rotation limits the amount of time that an archival item spends out its controlled storage environment. 

Another way that this scrapbook has benefited from preservation initiatives is that it has been digitized. The most obvious benefit of digitization is that it makes our collection more accessible to a wider audience who can access it remotely, but from a preservation standpoint, it is also beneficial because it reduces the amount of handling that the item receives. The more an item is handled, the higher the likelihood is that it will be damaged. By having researchers access a digital surrogate, we can preserve the integrity of the original and ensure its longevity. We do some digitization on-site, but we also send larger projects to vendors off-site. 

This month, we’ve displayed the album open to a show an image of pupils in front of the Kawaiaha’o Common School (above) and an image of a few of the teachers grouped with a few students (right). The Common School was originally the Old Mission School House, founded in the 1830s by missionary Sybil Bingham.  Unfortunately, only two of the images can be exhibited, but the album in  its entirety can be viewed here. And another preservation note, if we were to exhibit this album again, we would select different pages to open it to. 

Stop by the library throughout the month of May to see this scrapbook on display, and follow along as we share preservation content on our social media channels all week! You can also check out our two preservation focused Flickr pages for examples of work done in our lab and preservation tips you can use at home.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, April 22, 2024

Compiling a Legislative History: M.G.L. ch.6 §39B (Part 2)

Welcome back! Last week we learned that chapter 412 of the 1984 Acts created our beloved M.G.L. ch.6 §39B. This week we are going to investigate the origins of chapter 412 by tracing its bill history. 

As the guide indicates, once you’ve found the act, you need to find the original bill number. Full disclosure, my millennial-librarian-muscle-memory took over and I did what I normally do instead of following the steps spelled out in the guide (more on that later).

Strictly following the guide, the way to go about finding the bill number is to consult the Bulletin of Committee Work. There is a volume for each year from 1907 to 2000. We need the one from 1984 which fortunately falls within that time range. Unfortunately, this resource isn’t available digitally (yet), which means you will have to visit a library that has a copy. In the Bulletin, start with the section “Acts and Resolves Signed by the Governor” – this section is tacked on at the end of each volume. Heads up, these volumes don’t have tables of contents, nor do they have any uniform pagination because each volume is a bound collection of the individual bulletins (each with their own pagination) produced by each committee. At least the committee bulletins within the volumes are mercifully arranged in alphabetical order by committee name. [1]

Returning to the “Acts and Resolves Signed by the Governor” section (again, at the back of the Bulletin volume), you will need to look up the Act – in case it hasn’t been burned into your memory by now, ours is Chapter 412 of the Acts of 1984.

The entry for Chapter 412 of the Acts of 1984 gives us our bill number – House Bill 4279:

If that process sounds too tedious, you can do what I initially did: go to our online repository, type in the name of the act ("AN ACT PROVIDING FOR THE ORDERLY DISTRIBUTION OF STATE PUBLICATIONS") in the search bar and scroll through the results until you find the bill that is closest in date to the act. However, the main reason to avoid this method is that it potentially increases the margin of error: bill names can vary from the name of the act, you might not select the right bill (especially if multiple iterations exist), etc. I will say that the benefit of doing it my way is that it can turn up the other versions or relatives of the bill – such as 1983 House Bill 5035 and 1983 House Bill 6295. Check out this past blog post on rejected bills which offers a good overview of why you should consider them in your research.

Once we have the bill number – now we can look up the bill in our digital repository (if you haven’t done so already).

Before we get to the actual text of House Bill 4279, it’s worthwhile to check the information below the Bill number. Here you can find the names of people and committee(s) involved in initiating the Bill. In this case, the committee is “State Administration.”

If you feel so inclined, you can go back to the Bulletin of Committee Work and consult the Committee on State Administration’s bulletin. Senate Bills are listed first, but since we know ours is a House Bill we can skip ahead to where the numbers start with an H and then look for H4279:

You can then repeat the process for the House Committee on Ways and Means. I’m not going to say that this is an unnecessary step; however, once you have the bill number, you can just look up the bill’s history in either the Legislative Record for 1984 (companion to the Bulletin of Committee Work of the same year) or the “Bill History” section of the Index volume of the 1984 Journal of House of Representatives. These provide a chronology all in one place and don’t require you to hop around looking up each committee and scanning for the bill number. Like the Bulletin of Committee Work, the Legislative Record isn’t online; however, the Journal is.

Bill History – Legislative Record:

 Bill History – House Journal:

Page 2468 of volume 3 of the 1984
Journal of the House of Representatives

The condensed information printed in both sources should be the same (it’s always best to double check though!). The abbreviations refer to dates as well as page numbers of either Journal of the House of Representatives (a.k.a., House Journals commonly abbreviated as HJ) or Journal of the Senate (a.k.a., Senate Journals commonly abbreviated as SJ). The first entry, for example: “1/9-HOUSE-Referred to the committee on State Administration -HJ462A” is another way of saying that in the House of Representatives referred this bill to the committee on State Administration on January 9th, 1984 and is noted on page 462A of 1984 House Journal. This glossary of legislative terms can be useful when trying to parse these entries. You can then check each citation in the House Journals and Senate Journals for 1984 to see if there is any additional information.

As explained in the blog post on rejected bills which I mentioned earlier, these histories only correspond to the bill as filed. They aren’t going to include anything before that (even if there were earlier attempts at getting this legislation passed). Depending on what questions you are hoping to answer through compiling this legislative history, you might need to go back to those other versions and repeat portions of this process (see this past blog post for additional tips).

We’ve now reached the “additional resources” part of the guide. I’m only going to spend time on one of these because they are a resource for which we get frequent requests despite the fact that the State Library does not collect them: legislative packets. The State Archives collects legislative packets. These packets contain whatever material is submitted with the passed act to the Archives and they can be extremely useful when trying to figure out legislative intent (what the researcher is usually after when compiling a legislative history); but be warned: these packets are a mixed bag – in any given packet there could be a useful material or there could be virtually nothing (regardless of how monumental the legislation was). The packet for Chapter 412 of the Acts of 1984 was only 15 pages – the text of the bill with some margin notes (mostly corrections) along with signed and dated forms for the various stages of the bill, e.g. verifying that 1st, 2nd, and 3rd readings had taken place.

I realize that this apparent roadblock isn’t the most inspiring way to conclude our search. Arguably we could continue by considering more of the additional sources listed in the guide, such as contemporary newspapers or journals. The bill histories gave us plenty of names and dates we could search. We could also check the Library’s collection of legislator’s papers and see if there are papers from any of the individuals who sponsored or were on the committees involved with the bill. [2]

The exact stopping point depends on the researcher (I don’t know about you but I’ve well beyond satisfied any possible curiosity I had regarding this law). It’s important to keep in mind that this was a fairly straightforward piece of legislation to research, and it still took up a good chunk of time and required outside resources. [3]

I hope this gives you some idea as to the amount of work that goes into compiling a legislative history.

Maryellen Larkin
Reference & Government Documents Librarian

[1] House Rules, Joint Rules, and Senate Rules are treated within the larger Committee on Rules and are organized respectively.
[2] Try not to confuse legislative packets held at the State Archives with the legislator’s papers held at the State Library’s Special Collections.
[3] A special thank you to the archivists at the State Archives for helping me find the legislative packet!

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Collecting Legislative Papers

Ms. Collection 165
Here in the Special Collections Department, we’ve been diligently working with legislators on their paper donations. Collecting legislative papers is integral to the State Library’s work, as these records are valuable resources for documenting the General Court as a lawmaking institution and as a representative assembly. Working with scholars and legislative aides, our department identifies, preserves, and makes accessible historical material relating to the legislature and the political process in the Commonwealth. These primary source materials are used by historians, students, lawyers, journalists, and Massachusetts citizens to tell stories about citizenship and democracy.

Many questions from legislators have come to us recently regarding what specific materials they should retain. Legislative paper collections include any and all formats of materials and consist of records such as sponsored bills, notes from debates, committee and commission work, correspondence, diaries, call logs, campaign material, and more.

Pictured above is one example of the materials comprising legislative paper collections – notes from a committee meeting. This particular document comes from Ms. Collection 165: Denise Provost Papers on Legislation Concerning Gender Identity and Nondiscrimination, 1997-2017, bulk 2014-2016. It can be found in Series III: Steering Committee Meeting Materials, 2014-2016, which includes committee meeting notes, talking points, as well as lists of businesses and state legislators. Also included in the series are notes and invitations related to the Transgender Public Accommodations: A Conversation briefing held for legislators in July 2015.

Ms. Collection 168

Above are two examples of legislative paper materials at once– a photograph and correspondence. These come from Ms. Collection 168: Gloria L. Fox Papers, 1985-2016, bulk 1999-2013. The items pictured here can be found in Series II Subseries B: Health Legislation, 1996-2012. This subseries documents Gloria Fox’s work in healthcare legislation, in which her main focus was health disparities within ethnic and racial communities. Fox worked on legislation relating to lupus, a disease that disproportionately affects African American women, AIDS/HIV issues as they relate to the African American community, and recognition for community health workers. Records in the subseries include correspondence, memos, meeting agendas and minutes, conference materials, reports, and draft bills.

Currently, over 50 legislative paper collections have corresponding, searchable finding guides which you can access through our digital repository. If you are a legislator or you work for a legislator interested in donating materials to the Special Collections Department, you can find more information including how to contact us on the State Library website.

Alyssa Persson
Special Collections Processing Librarian

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Compiling a Legislative History: M.G.L. ch.6 §39B (Part 1)

A common research request we get asked as librarians at the State Library involves tracking down legislative histories of specific laws. If you have ever asked one of us for the legislative history of a particular law, then you definitely have been directed to our Guide to Compiling a Massachusetts Legislative History. Understandably, you, the researcher, might find this a little frustrating – and we totally get it: you asked for a chair and instead have been handed an instruction manual for how to find the materials necessary for building a chair. The hard truth is that legislative histories aren’t pre-existing resources we have on hand; they must be made (ideally by the person researching the piece of legislation in question). Compiling a legislative history is no mean feat and, depending on the piece of legislation you’re researching, the paper trail can take you back several centuries (e.g., Acts and Resolves contain acts that date back to 1692). The onus falls on the researcher to track down every bill, act, and amendment related to the law in question.

Since I’m the type of learner who needs to be shown how something is done before I attempt it on my own, I thought it would be useful to demonstrate how to use the guide. Using M.G.L. ch.6 §39B as an example, I am going to guide you through compiling a legislative history, following the steps and advice as described in our guide and, when necessary, some of the Library’s past blog posts.[1] I have several reasons for doing this: (1) I want this law to be known more widely; (2) I want to show you what the librarians at the State Library do on a daily basis; (3) I want to demystify the MA legislative research process; and (4) I scheduled myself to write back-to-back blog posts and this seemed like a good two-parter.

Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a lawyer; I cannot interpret the law or provide legal advice for others.

Reasons for why I’m choosing M.G.L. ch.6 §39B

If you read our January 2024 newsletter, chances are you noticed that 2024 marks the 40th anniversary of M.G.L. ch.6 §39B. M.G.L. ch.6 §39B, was and still is a significant piece of legislation for the State Library as it mandates all state agencies to submit copies of their published materials to the library.

The State Library serves two crucial roles in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It not only preserves the historic record of our government for future generations, but it also facilitates access to these documents for anyone to see – not just the legislature. Many of these materials are shelved in the stacks (for more information, see my last blog post), but many have been digitized and are accessible through the Library’s digital repository.

Researching M.G.L. ch.6 §39B Legislative History: The Beginning

To get us started, I’m going to need to fabricate a scenario. I’m also going to take the liberty of assuming that your first encounter with the General Laws will be via a computer and that you don’t have a physical copy of the text handy.

In this scenario, you were just merrily scrolling through the online General Laws and you came across a particular law, the text of which reads:

Obviously, you would do your due diligence and check it against the official version because technically, the online General Laws is not the official M.G.L. Those are printed every other year, the next being in 2024.

Just to drive home the point, the online M.G.L. puts this disclaimer on its website:

The topic of the digital version vs. the print version of the M.G.L. is the subject of another blog post which you can read about here.

With that step out of the way, the next one is to consult an annotated version of the General Laws. Again, the only official M.G.L. is the print version which I mentioned earlier; however, the official version doesn’t provide the contextual information that an annotated version does. You need both. The two popular annotated texts are published by Lexis and Thomson Reuters and are available on Lexis and Westlaw databases respectively. Thankfully, the Library subscribes to both Westlaw and Lexis (as well as many other databases) which are available on our public access computers (side note: the Trial Court Law Libraries also subscribe and provide access on their computers).

In the credit section of Westlaw’s M.G.L.A. it says: “Added by St.1984, c. 412, § 3” and in the history section of Lexis’s A.L.M. it says: “1984, 412, § 3.” What does that mean? Less work (hopefully) but more importantly, this is the citation to the Act that was codified as M.G.L. ch.6 §39B. The citation refers to chapter 412, section 3 of the 1984 Acts.

This is the point in a reference request where the librarian supplies the patron with a PDF from the relevant section of an annotated M.G.L. from Westlaw or Lexis and a link to the guide, and maybe some words of encouragement (e.g., “Good luck with your research!”). Therefore, it seems like a good stopping point for Part 1 of our adventure -- but worry not! Next week I’ll take you through some of the other resources listed in the guide that will lead us to the bill history behind St.1984, c. 412, § 3.

Maryellen Larkin
Government Documents & Reference Librarian

[1] Tips When Researching Legislation: Context through Visualizations (note: this article was written in 2020 when the State Library was closed to visitors – thankfully, we are open to the public again!) & Tips When Researching Legislation: Rejected Bills.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Woodpeckers Alight in the Library

As winter turns into spring, woodpeckers become very active and noisy, so in early April you may be woken up by the sound of them drumming outside of your window. Luckily, our displayed Audubon print is much less distracting, but just as striking, as the real thing. Our featured print is plate 66, the ivory-billed woodpecker. This print shows one male (with the red marking) and two females, caught in the act of stalking a grub and striping bark from a tree.

Woodpeckers are one of the earliest markers of spring, as they are busy drumming and drilling to communicate, attract mates, mark territory, and build nests. The Commonwealth has created an informational webpage on the woodpecker, and from there we learned that they begin nesting in April in the cavities that they have drummed into trees.

Visit us April 11 through May 9 to see the woodpecker (quietly) on display in our reading room.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, April 8, 2024

Running Through History: The Story of the Boston Marathon

As the days become longer and the temperatures begin to warm, there is a renewed energy in New England. The Boston Marathon is just around the corner which makes for an exciting time in the city, in the Commonwealth, and in the running, wheelchair, and handcycling community around the world.

The Boston Marathon, one of the world's oldest and most prestigious marathons, has a history that spans over a century. Inaugurated on April 19, 1897, this iconic race has evolved from a local event to a global spectacle, leaving an unforgettable mark on the world of long-distance running. The Boston Marathon was also the first major marathon to include a wheelchair division competition when it officially recognized Bob Hall in 1975. This iconic race takes place on Patriots’ Day each April and it's a day that brings everyone together to celebrate the human spirit.

Photo courtesy of the Boston Athletic Association

Here at the State Library we have a collection of books about the Marathon. Recently I explored the stacks and came across a few titles that really stood out to me, and made me excited about this time of year. Browsing through these books, I saw a lot of the big names in the distance running world. I thought it would be interesting to tell part of the Marathon’s story through the lens of a few of these athletes.

Photo courtesy of The Boston Marathon: the incredible, zany story of
America’s greatest foot race and the men and women who have run in it

First up we have Kathrine Switzer. The Boston Marathon witnessed a groundbreaking moment in 1967 when Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially run the race. At the time, women were not allowed to participate, but Switzer registered using her initials, K.V. Switzer. Despite her efforts to blend in, race official Jock Semple attempted to forcibly remove her from the course. Switzer's determination prevailed and she completed the marathon, challenging gender norms and paving the way for future generations of female runners. Her courageous act not only marked a pivotal moment for women in sports, but also left a lasting imprint on the Boston Marathon, transforming it into a symbol of inclusivity and breaking barriers.

Photo courtesy of The Boston Marathon:
the incredible, zany story of America’s
 greatest foot race and the men and
women who have run in it
Alberto Salazar, an American long-distance runner, added his  name to the Boston Marathon’s history with a display of dedication and determination. In the 1982 race, Salazar engaged in a race day showdown with fellow runner, Dick Beardsley. The two athletes pushed each other to the limits in one of the closest and most memorable finishes in Boston Marathon history. The grueling race ended with Salazar securing victory by only two seconds, collapsing at the finish line in complete exhaustion. This iconic moment not only highlighted Salazar's perseverance, but also contributed to the marathon's reputation as a stage for remarkable athletic triumph.

More recently, in the midst of the unpredictable New England weather during the 2018 Boston Marathon, Des Linden, an accomplished American distance runner, found herself facing harsh conditions. Battling cold, wind, and rain, Linden showed her resilience. During the race, Linden slowed down to wait for a fellow American runner, Shalane Flanagan, encouraging her and demonstrating the camaraderie that defines the spirit of the Boston Marathon. Despite the challenging weather, Linden powered through, becoming the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years. Her triumph not only showcased her determination, but also highlighted the sense of unity and support that defines the running community.

As a runner and someone who has lived in Boston for almost 15 years, this race holds a special place in my heart. I get the privilege of running this race next week and I’m still speechless at the thought of this opportunity. To run on a course that elite runners and recreational runners alike have stepped foot on for 127 years before me, fills me with a feeling you can’t explain. I was so happy to have found our collection of books about the Boston Marathon and wanted to share some of this race’s history with you.

If you have any questions about the history of the Boston Marathon or you’d like to take a closer look at some of the books mentioned here, don’t hesitate to reach out to us by email

Works Consulted:

Jessica Shrey
Legal Research Reference Librarian

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

State Library Newsletter - April Issue

We're not fooling, it's time for the April newsletter! April is both National Poetry Month and Earth Month, and in the State Library we have displays for both of those designations, plus a display for the upcoming Boston Marathon! Read all about those, along with our upcoming Author Talk, and more, in this month's newsletter.

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.

Monday, April 1, 2024

On Display in the State Library - Poetry Month!

When you think of the State Library, a large poetry collection might not come to mind. And while poetry isn’t exactly one of our strongest collecting areas, we do have a respectable number, including some volumes that date from the 1700s and 1800s. This month, in celebration of April’s designation as Poetry Month, we’ve selected a few of those older volumes to share in our Collection Spotlight case. Visit us throughout the month to see The Boston Book, Being Specimens of Metropolitan Literature, The Waif: A Collection of Poems, and Astraea: The Balance of Illusion on display in our reading room.

National Poetry Month was established by the Academy of American Poets and held its first celebration in 1996. Through local events held throughout the country, displays within libraries and bookstores, and educational resources for schools, Poetry Month is a time to celebrate works of poetry (either already published or your own original creation) and the role of poets in society. In addition to the historical volumes displayed in our Collection Spotlight case, here at the State Library we are also sharing some contemporary publications, including the poetry winners from the Mass Book Awards, on the shelves when you first enter the library. Find more information about Poetry Month on the Academy’s website.

Within our Collection Spotlight case, you will find three volumes that date to the early-to-mid 1800s. The first is The Boston Book, which was published in Boston in 1837. This is the second in a series whose aim was to provide a compilation of examples of “the modern literature of the Metropolis of the North.” It is not entirely comprised of poetry, but is a mixture of essays, fiction, and poetry. We are displaying the volume open to the poem “New England” by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), who was a Quaker poet born in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Whittier was an abolitionist and is part of the group of poets referred to as the “fireside poets,” known for their themes of morality and domesticity, and the wide appeal of their topics, hence the whole family could gather around the fireplace to enjoy them together. In “New England” Whittier describes the landscape of his homeland in romanticized terms, like the stanza transcribed here: “Land of the forest and the rock – / Of dark blue lake and mighty river – / Of mountains reared aloft to mock / The storm’s career, the lightning’s shock – / My own green land forever!”
The Waif: A Collection of Poems was published in 1845 in Cambridge (MA) and was edited by Cambridge resident and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The volume begins with Longfellow’s poem “Proem” but it is a collection of primarily British poetry dating from the 1700s into the 1800s. Given the time of year, we’ve chosen to display the volume open to a poem titled “April” by an anonymous author. The poem describes April’s rainy tendencies, as well as the buds and blooms that burst forth as a result. One stanza reads, “I stood to hear – I love it well – / The rain’s continuous sound; / Small drops, but thick and fast they fell, / Down straight into the ground.” And another, “The very earth, the steamy air, / Is all with fragrance rife; / And grace and beauty everywhere / Are flushing into life.” We think this is an apt description of April’s weather!

Lastly, we are displaying Astraea: The Balance of Illusion, which is a poem by Massachusetts’ own Oliver Wendell Holmes. It was presented before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Yale College on August 14, 1850, and published by Ticknor, Reed, and Fields of Boston in the same year. Holmes (1809-1894) is known as a polymath, or someone who has a wide-ranging knowledge. Among his many accolades, he was a graduate of Harvard University, a physician, author, and poet. One of his poems is “Astraea,” whose title refers to the Greek goddess Astraea, who represents justice, purity, innocence, and precision. Some interpretations of this poem are that Holmes was reflecting on changing times and was reminiscent of an idealized past. Within its lines, we found a section that speaks on the changing seasons and the coming spring, which has a hopeful tone, “Winter is past; the heart of Nature warms / Beneath the wrecks of unresisted storms; / Doubtful at first, suspected more than seen, / The southern slopes are fringed with tender green; / On sheltered banks, beneath the dripping eaves, / Spring’s earliest nurslings spread their glowing leaves.”

Stop by the library from March 29 through April 25 to see these volumes on display, and for more Poetry Month reading, check out some of our past blog posts: Poets of the Commonwealth and Poetry for Boston.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian