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BPL: The Foundation Of Public Libraries

The Boston Public Library
(Click an image to start a slideshow)

The modern idea of a public library was essentially born with the Boston Public Library. The main McKim Building on Copley Square is also widely regarded by architecture fans as one of the greatest public buildings in America. A new book offers glances inside the building and the institution that have never been seen before.

Author Catherine Willis unearthed hundreds of forgotten photographs for the latest edition of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. Her volume on the Boston Public Library includes, among other things, photos of the Rube-Goldberg-like pneumatic tube communication system that once snaked through the building.

Willis herself works at the library and she shows us photos of its earliest days, and deepest foundations.

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  • William Davisl

    I enjoyed Catherine Willis’ interview very much. I was a Bates Hall runner in the early 1950s when the tube system was very much in use, It was cranky then and so were the carts which sometimes came off the track. For some reason only boys delivered books to Bates Hall — and I’m afraid it  often took a lot more  than 1o minutes. Girls worked in most of the  stacks but the lowest, and dampest and apparently spookiest one — Stack One — was staffed only with guys. There was also a smoking room on this level that was frequented by cops, for some reason, as well as library workers.Most of the books in stack one were not in much demand, as I recall there were a lot of collections of sermons. One co worker took over one sermon-lined alcove and put in a beer cooler and a cot and entertained female friends, A man named Julian  Moynihan, who had a distinguished career as an academic, worked at central (as we called it)in the rare book room.He wrote a novel  set in a fictitious library but obviously the BPL, and his protagonist had a similar love nest in the stacks.The late, great comedian Fred Allen was also a Stack One veteran.
    Bill Davis
    bill@davistravels.com

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