A Summer of Surprises

By Elaine Grublin

Librarians love tracking statistics and studying trends. Here at the MHS our statistics show that July is typically the busiest month of the year and February is typically the slowest. Generally speaking we use this information to make informed decisions about scheduling staff, arranging vacations, planning for long term projects, and determining how to best serve our researchers.

This summer everything the library staff thought they knew about summer trends flew out the window. As I mentioned, July is traditionally our busiest month of the year. Looking back at the statistics for the previous five summers, we averaged 380 daily visits to the library in the month of July. Last year, we had a record setting 444 daily visits from 202 individual researchers.

This summer the reader services staff was set, mentally and physically, to weather the July storm. We had extra part-time hours scheduled; we told everyone to wear their sneakers for ease of running up and down the stairs to the stacks; staff meetings were filled with pep talks and words of wisdom from veteran staff members. Then the storm appeared to pass us by. Our July numbers were way down. We had only 334 daily visits, by 141 individual researchers. Far below our averages! We scratched our heads wondering where the researchers had gone. Perhaps it was a sign of the struggling economy — lack of funding available for extended research trips or family vacations to Boston. We did not know.

But the storm was waiting, gathering strength. It struck in August. Statistically speaking August is a refreshing change of pace after the July rush. The past five years show an average of 260 daily visits in the month. Last summer we had only 220 daily visits from 124 individual researchers. So far this month we have already seen more than 340 daily August visits from 148 individual researchers.

Along similar lines, it is almost unheard of to have a day where twenty or more individual researchers visit the reading room in August. In July it is typical, but in the last five Augusts it has only happened once — August of 2009. This summer we have already had five days with twenty or more researchers, hitting a 2010 high of twenty-six researchers on August 12th.

Long story short, what looked like it was shaping up to be a slow summer, was indeed just a statistically unusual summer, proving to be the busiest summer we have seen in the recent past. Perhaps the airlines and hotels were offering better fares in August this summer. We will need to look at why this happened. Yet with two business days remaining in the month, the library already surpassed the total number of researchers for the combined months of July and August for the past five years, reaching 675 total visits as of Saturday.

Now we must wait until next summer to see if this is an emerging trend, or just a statistical anomaly.


This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

Please join us on Wednesday, 1 September at 12 noon for a brown-bag lunch talk with research fellow Matthew Bahar of the University of Oklahoma. Matt will speak on “People of the Dawnland and Their Atlantic World.” More info here.


Microfilm Goes High-Tech!

By Jeremy Dibbell

We’ve recently acquired three wonderful new microfilm reader/scanners, and they’re receiving rave reviews from staff and readers alike (research fellow Matt Bahar, pictured here, has been making good use of one in recent days), and other library visitors have been tossing around some pretty impressive superlatives about them (by which I mean positive superlatives, which was not usually the case with the previous readers).

The new machines, called ScanPro 2000s, allow readers to scan images from microfilm as PDF or image files onto a flash drive, to their email account, or to a printer in the library. The quality is significantly better than the printouts made from our older machines, and the ability to create zoomable, enhanceable image files and high-quality PDF documents is definitely an improvement.

When we first saw a demo of one of these, staff picked a reel of microfilm that we knew was just about impossible to read on our other machines (too dark, too smudgy, &c.). With the ScanPro, a couple of quick clicks resulted in a clear, easily-readable image (I confess, I was shocked at the level of detail we could pick out by adjusting the settings just a little bit). There’s even a “spot-edit” feature, that allows you to lighten up that dark corner of a page or highlight a signature by increasing the contrast. Just about every time I use one of them (usually before we open since they’ve been pretty popular during the day!) I find another nifty new feature.

Researchers who cannot visit the library can request digital files to be e-mailed to them by the library staff. Please see details here at under “low resolution digital files.”

The purchase of the ScanPros was made possible thanks to a grant from the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation, and to fundraising efforts led by MHS Fellow Frederic D. Grant, for which we (and our readers) are exceedingly grateful.

Next time you visit, be sure to ask for a “test drive” of one of the new machines!

Digital Collections Highlighted

By Jeremy Dibbell

The MHS was among several Boston-area repositories featured in Sam Allis’ Saturday Boston Globe article “Historic collections meet the 21st century.” Allis highlights HIstoric New England’s new online collections database, and also reports on digitization efforts at the Boston Public Library, the American Antiquarian Society, and the Boston Athenaeum.

Among our digital projects mentioned by Allis are our presentations of Thomas Jefferson’s manuscript of “Notes on the State of Virginia” (you can also view Jefferson’s book catalogues, farm and garden books, a copy of the Declaration of Independence in his hand, and many of his architectural drawings on our Thomas Jefferson Papers website) and our forthcoming digital collection of materials relating to the Siege of Boston during the Revolutionary War.

For the Adams Family Papers (which amount to some 300,000 manuscript pages in all) we host several different types of digital collection. The diaries and autobiography of John Adams, plus the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams (nearly 1,200 letters) are available in digital facsimile with transcriptions through the Adams Family Papers Electronic Archive. The diaries of John Quincy Adams (some 14,000 pages) are presented in digital facsimile, searchable or browsable by date (and JQA’s line-a-day diaries are currently being broadcast via Twitter, after which the transcriptions are added to the digital facsimile pages). And thirty-two volumes of the published Adams Papers are freely available as annotated transcriptions as part of the Adams Papers Digital Editions.

But our digital collections go far beyond the Adamses and Jefferson. You can browse the full list of our digital offerings here, but among the collections launched (fairly) recently are our Coming of the Revolution site, which features an interactive timeline of documents covering the period 1764-1776; African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts, a collection of 117 manuscript and printed documents from our collections including letters and poems by Phillis Wheatley and our (unique) copy of Samuel Sewall’s anti-slavery pamphlet The Selling of Joseph. If maps are more your style, check out Massachusetts Maps, a selection of 104 maps (mostly unique manuscripts) from our collections. Or there’s the ever-popular MHS Highlights Gallery, where you can see many of the most popular and striking visual items housed at the Society.

We hope you enjoy our digital collections, and always welcome feedback about them. Just email beehive@masshist.org, and I’ll pass them along.

This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

Please join us on Wednesday, 18 August at 12 noon for a brown-bag lunch talk with Daniel R. Mandell of Truman State University. Dan will talk about his current research project, “Revolutionary Price and Wage Regulation.” More info here.

Bentley Receives ANA Presidential Award

By Jeremy Dibbell

Anne Bentley, our Curator of Art, was presented with a Presidential Award by the American Numismatic Association, meeting in Boston this week.

The plaque below the medal (pictured at left) reads: “Thank you for your outstanding contributions to our hobby community.”

With John W. Adams, Anne is the curator of our current exhibit, “Precious Metals: From Au to Zn,” which you can view Monday-Saturday, 1-4 p.m. here at the Society through 2 October.

Anne was feeling far too modest this morning to comment on her award, but she said “Come see the show. We’ve got some great items on display, and you’ll have a chance to learn some interesting things about your history.”

We’re so proud of you, Anne – congratulations on this well-deserved honor!

Summer Assistance

By Jeremy Dibbell

Volunteers and interns are very important here at MHS (we couldn’t do it without them!), so in a series of posts over the next couple weeks I’ll highlight some of this summer’s assistants. We’ll begin today with the Collections Services crew, which this summer consisted of:

Christie Ellinger – Christie is a rising sophomore at Cornell University, and this was her fourth summer at MHS. She’s spent much of her time with Preservation Librarian Kathy Griffin, but also has worked with Reader Services at various times. This summer she worked on a whole slew of preservation projects, including rehousing microfilm reels and various manuscript collections (among them the Lodge-Eisenhower correspondence in the Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. Papers II, the May-Windship-Barker-Archbald papers, the Putnam-Blake papers, and the Massachusetts Reform Club papers). She also performed conservation treatments on several leatherbound volumes, and replaced worn-out cartons for collections stored offsite. Christie said her favorite find was a letter from Cornell’s president in the Lodge-Eisenhower collection.

Rebecca Hecht – Rebecca is a rising junior at Stanford University, and this was her second summer in Collections Services. She worked with Manuscript Processor Laura Lowell to process portions of the Saltonstall Family papers (as part of the grant we received late last year), concentrating on arranging and dating materials Rebecca also completed a preliminary inventory of another collection of family papers. Her favorite discovery was an oversized genealogical chart in the Saltonstall papers showing the family’s connections to early English and Scottish kings.

Michelle Prior – Michelle is a rising sophomore at Miami University (Ohio), and this was her first summer at MHS. She also worked on Saltonstall processing, entering metadata for the Leverett Saltonstall photograph collection. Beyond that, she was responsible for making preservation photocopies of news clippings from various collections, and completed a preliminary inventory of an unprocessed collection of family papers. When asked to name the most interesting thing she found this summer, she said it was a body of correspondence between a young woman and her father as the woman attended medical school in the early decades of the 20th century (when this collection is fully processed and available for research I’ll be able to highlight this at more length).

On behalf of all the staff at MHS, a big thank you to Christie, Rebecca and Michelle for their good work this summer! Next time, we’ll meet those helping out in the Publications Department.


Summer Reading Sale!

By Suzanne Carroll

If you’ve had enough beach reads this summer, perhaps it’s time to consider a publication from the Massachusetts Historical Society for your next book. Now through 31 August, the Society is offering many of its most popular titles at a discount to MHS Fellows and Members. Whether you’re interested in John Winthrop or John Adams, soldiers or suffragettes, the MHS has a wide range of engaging, high-quality books available for the curious reader. Click here [PDF] to learn more about our discounted titles.

Did you know that the Massachusetts Historical Society has been publishing books since 1792? Not only is the MHS the oldest historical society in America; it’s also one of the country’s oldest publishers. Perhaps even more surprising, many of the Society’s earliest publications are still available for purchase. The oldest volume in the inventory is Collections of the MHS, series 1, volume 6, which dates from 1799. Like all of the Collections, this volume features items straight from the archives, such as letters by George Washington and Peter Stuyvesant, as well as a list of vocabularies from American Indian languages. Bibliophiles may also be interested to know that copies of many of the Society’s Proceedings, dating from the 1860s, are still in stock, as are all 18 volumes of Sibley’s Harvard Graduates.

For information on any of our publications, whether from the 18th century or the 21st, visit http://www.masshist.org/in_print/ or e-mail publications@masshist.org.

All That Glitters: Coins & Medals on Display

By Jeremy Dibbell

Our new exhibit, “Precious Metals: From Au to Zn” opens today (Monday, 2 August), with public hours from 1-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday through September. Special guest curator John W. Adams and MHS Curator Anne E. Bentley have mounted this show to highlight many of the rare and unique pieces in the collection. A sampling of what will be on view includes the New England three pence and shilling, the 1776 Massachusetts Pine Tree copper penny, a piece of original Massachusetts Bay stock, the February 1690/1 Massachusetts Bill of Credit, the full set of Washington-Webster silver Comitia Americana medals, Indian Peace Medals of colonial and federal issue, a number of Washington medals from the Baker series, and some fascinating pieces from the Vernon medal series.

“Precious Metals” is designed to complement the American Numismatics Association’s World’s Fair of Money, to be held 10-14 August at the Hynes Convention Center. 

I had the chance to view the exhibit this morning, and it’s really something to see (not to mention by far the shiniest exhibit I’ve ever seen at MHS). Do stop by and take a look.

This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

Please join us on Wednesday, 4 August at 12 noon for a brown-bag lunch talk with research fellow David Silverman of George Washington University. David will speak on “Thundersticks: Firearms and the Transformation of North America.” More info here.