Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Plea for the BPL

Northeastern Univ. history professor William M. Fowler Jr. has an op/ed in the Globe today urging folks to step up and assist in the preservation of the Boston Public Library's collections:

"John Adams' library is only one of thousands of national treasures in the BPL. The shelves in Copley Square groan under the weight of other rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, and prints. Over the last several years the city, the Commonwealth, and the Boston Public Library Foundation have supported the restoration and preservation of the McKim Building. However, they have done much less to protect the building's previous contents. In the course of time McKim's grand palace will simply become a magnificent tomb filled with dust and bits of paper.

What can be done? Digitization is a partial answer. Electronic copies of books and documents will reduce the need to handle them, and thus help preservation. Such technology, however, will do nothing to repair damage already done or to prevent future deterioration. There is no substitute for careful conservation of the originals. The BPL's four sister libraries each have sizable conservation staffs. The BPL has only two conservators.

Both the city and the Commonwealth have supported the library, but given competing demands on the public coffers it is unlikely that they can provide more. The BPL must follow the path taken by the other four great libraries -- private fund-raising. The Boston Public Library Foundation has made gallant efforts, but much more needs to be done. While we must nurture those who have already given hoping that they will give more, casting our buckets into the shallow pool of local giving is not likely to produce impressive results. We are the custodians of national treasures that deserve national attention. Boston and John Adams once helped to start a revolution and the nation followed. It is time to reignite that bold spirit to save America's treasures."