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Boston Public Library unveils new collections of distinction

February 3, 2015

Boston Public Library

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The collections include historical works detailing American and European history.

Boston Public Library unveiled its newest Collections of Distinction, adding six to the initial 18 collections that represent the most outstanding, expansive, and renowned of its holdings of more than 23 million items. The collections include Massachusetts Newspapers, Boston Artists, Boston Pictorial Archive, the Book of Common Prayer, works by Daniel Defoe, as well as the Mellen Chamberlain Collection of Autographs. Within the collections is an array of books, prints, letters, drawings, and other original works dating back as early as the 14th century.

“It is our privilege to share these distinguished collections; from manuscripts to modern art, they bring stories and culture of the past and present to life for the world to view,” said Amy E. Ryan, President of the Boston Public Library. “We invite the community in to discover the rich history these collections hold.”

Among the historical items from Massachusetts are works of Boston artists from the 1940s to the present, a collection of photographs and lithographs of Boston scenery from the 18th through 20th centuries, and an archive of Massachusetts newspapers dating back to 1706. Additionally, the Mellen Chamberlain Collection of Autographs contains 20,000 letters, engravings, and documents highlighting American and European history, including documentation of the Salem Witch Trials, the American Revolution, and correspondence from famed authors Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and John Singleton Copley.

Boston Public Library is one of the five largest research libraries in the United States and its collections are internationally recognized as preeminent among other libraries and cultural institutions. One of the guiding principles in Boston Public Library’s community-informed strategic plan, the BPL Compass, is dedicated to special collections. A group of the library’s most highly trained subject experts, together with members of the library’s Special Collections Committee, established the criteria for the Collections of Distinction.

Detailed descriptions, images, curator profiles, and links to resources related to the Collections of Distinction can be found via

Boston Public Library Collections of Distinction are identified based on the following criteria:

  • unique, rare, and/or intrinsically valuable
  • pre-eminent among libraries and cultural institutions
  • historical significance that reflects the long term BPL commitment to the collection, buttressed by the past and current generosity of individuals
  • central to the history of the City of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the communities therein
  • resonates with communities of scholars and makes the BPL the destination for scholarship in a particular subject
  • universality of subject matter and furthers the purpose of the BPL by contributing to a democratic education

Boston Public Library gives priority to Collections of Distinction in terms of access, acquisition, digitization, preservation, and staff development; and will continue to identify additional candidates for Collections of Distinction status.

Featured image: Gleason's pictorial drawing-room companion, Boston, Mass. : F. Gleason, 1851-1859. More images are available.

Boston Public Library has a Central Library, twenty-four branches, map center, business library, and a website filled with digital content and services. Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library has pioneered public library service in America. It was the first large free municipal library in the United States, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room. Each year, the Boston Public Library hosts thousands of programs and serves millions of people. All of its programs and exhibitions are free and open to the public. At the Boston Public Library, books are just the beginning. To learn more, visit