State Library of Massachusetts

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State Library of Massachusetts
Established 1826
Location Boston, MA
Size 500,000 print; over 125,000 electronic documents
Other information
Director Elvernoy Johnson, State Librarian

The State Library of Massachusetts (est.1826) in Boston, Massachusetts, "supports the research and information needs of government, libraries, and people through ... services and access to a comprehensive repository of state documents and other historical items."[1] It "opened in 1826 and has been in its present location in the State House since the 1890s."[2] The State Library falls under the administration of the governor.[3] In fiscal year 2014, the state budgeted $832,605 for the library.[4]

Massachusetts State Library, State House, Boston, 2013


Massachusetts State Library, State House, Boston, 1908

The State Library’s origins date back to 1811 with the establishment of a program to exchange statutes with other states. The Library was formally established by the General Court in 1826 to hold these documents and other materials that had accumulated in offices throughout the State House. State Land Agent John W. Coffin was given the additional responsibilities of State Librarian, and the Library’s collection was housed in the Land Agent’s office. The exchange program was expanded in 1844 to include judicial decisions and other significant state documents, and the documents acquired through this program formed the core of the early collections of the State Library and is one of the largest collections of state publications in existence.

During the mid-19th century, the Library evolved into a comprehensive research library to support the work of the legislature, governor’s office, and other public officials. In addition to legal and public document holdings, the Library collected materials on a wide range of research topics, including political, historical, statistical, economic and scientific works. By this time, the Library’s collection had outgrown its original space and was moved to a larger, dedicated library space when a State House addition was completed in 1856. Also during this time, the Library came under the direction of the Secretary of the Board of Education in 1849.

Throughout the later part of the 19th century and early 20th century, the Library’s collections and operations continued to grow. In 1893, the Library became its own department directly under the Governor. The Library moved to its current location in 1895 and added an annex for additional stack space in the 1920s. This annex would become the Library’s Special Collections Department in the 1970s, where rare and special items such as maps, photographs, atlases, and manuscript materials are now located. These include treasures such as the Bradford Manuscript and the medal presented to Senator Charles Sumner by the Haitian government.

In recent decades, the Library’s collecting focus has narrowed, with an emphasis now on disseminating information more quickly and easily. Although the Library still has an extensive historic collection of government documents from throughout the country and an older general research collection, the Library now focuses on collecting material specifically about Massachusetts, particularly state and municipal publications and histories. In the past decade, much of the Library’s efforts have been centered on providing electronic access to these materials by both capturing contemporary state publications and digitizing older Massachusetts-related materials.[5]


In 2013, the library's trustees are:[6]

  • Therese Murray, ex officio President of the Senate (designee: Senator James B. Eldridge)
  • Robert A. DeLeo, ex officio Speaker of the House (designee: Representative Kate Hogan)
  • William Francis Galvin, ex officio Secretary of State (designee: Michael Maresco)
  • George Anderson (appointed by the governor)
  • Em Claire Knowles (appointed by the governor)
  • Sharen Leonard (appointed by the governor)
  • Matthew O'Connor (appointed by the governor)

State Librarians[edit]


1826–1849 John W. Coffin (in his role as State Land Agent)
1849–1855 Barnas Sears (in his role as Secretary of the Board of Education)
1855–1861 George S. Boutwell, ex officio (in his role as Secretary of the Board of Education) Samuel C. Jackson, Acting Librarian (1858–1861)
1861–1877 Joseph White, ex officio (in his role as Secretary of the Board of Education) Samuel C. Jackson, Acting Librarian
1877–1893 John W. Dickinson, ex officio (in his role as Secretary of the Board of Education) Oliver Warner, Acting Librarian (1877–1879)Caleb B. Tillinghast, Acting Librarian (1879–1893)
1893–1909 Caleb Benjamin Tillinghast
1909–1917 Charles F. D. Belden
1917 Foster W. Stearns Mrs. Annie Hopkins, Acting Librarian (Sept 15 to Dec 1, 1917)
1917–1919 Lawrence Evans
1919–1936 Edward Redstone
1936–1959 Dennis Dooley
1960–1972 I. Albert Matkov
1973–1980 A. Hunter Rineer, Jr.
1980–1982 James H. Fish
1982–1997 Gasper Caso
1997–2007 Stephen A. Fulchino
2007- Elvernoy H. Johnson


Digital Collections[edit]

Many library collections are available digitally through the library's website.[7] These items include both older digitized material and more recent electronically borne state documents. Resources include the Massachusetts Acts and Resolves (1692 to present),[8] annual reports of various state agencies, and Special Collections materials, such as the IMLS funded project Mapping Massachusetts: The History of Transportation Systems in the Commonwealth.[9] These documents are archived in the Library's digital repository.[10]

Library's holdings of "Annual Reports" of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from the 1940s, with the report for 1941 on top (photo 2010)

Print Collections[edit]

The library holds collections in the areas of government documents, law, Massachusetts history, and public and current affairs. "As the legally designated depository for Massachusetts state publications, the State Library has the most complete collection of Massachusetts government documents in existence, with holdings dating from the seventeenth century." [11] The library maintains a comprehensive collection of Massachusetts legislative documents and House and Senate Journals, which are the primary sources for doing Massachusetts legislative history research.[12] The Periodicals department holds includes dozens of daily and weekly newspapers from various towns and cities in Massachusetts.[13]

Special Collections[edit]

The Special Collections department houses the library’s oldest and rarest materials, as well as the copy of record for Massachusetts legislative records. Holdings comprise rare books, manuscripts, broadsides, newspapers, tax valuations, architectural drawings, prints and photographs, scrapbooks, souvenirs and archival collections from former Massachusetts legislators. The collection, which dates to the early 1600s, is particularly strong in nineteenth and twentieth-century city directories, maps, and atlases for towns across Massachusetts.[14]

The medal presented to Charles Sumner by President Nissage Saget of Haiti in honor of Sumner's work to gain U.S. recognition of Haiti as a sovereign state. Donated to the State Library of Massachusetts by Charles Sumner.[15]


The library curates several exhibits each year that feature items from the library collections. Past library exhibits have included:

  • The 55th Regiment and the Alfred S. Hartwell Collection, Spring 2008.
  • Plymouth, Massachusetts: People, Politics and Primary Resources, Fall 2008.
  • African Americans in the Massachusetts Legislature: A History, Winter 2009.
  • Holyoke: Queen of Industrial Cities, Fall 2009.
  • Massachusetts Women in Politics, Winter 2010.
  • Butterflies of North America and Britain, Summer 2010.

Select images from these exhibits can be viewed on the library's Flickr page.[16]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Catalogue of the State library of Massachusetts. Boston: W. White, printer, 1858. Google books. Includes history of the library, 1811–1857.
  • Massachusetts State Library. Annual Report. 1903; 1907; 1908; 1910; 1914; 1920
  • Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A manual for the use of the General Court for 1921. Boston: 1921; p. 724. Google books
  • Colman M. Herman. Hidden treasure: The state's library and archives are underfunded, understaffed, and inaccessible to both researchers and ordinary citizens. Commonwealth, April 13, 2010

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°21′29″N 71°03′49″W / 42.35807°N 71.06365°W / 42.35807; -71.06365