Celebrating a Reinvigorated Special Collections Department at Boston Public Library

Finegold Alexander’s design for the renovation will help to preserve Boston’s civic treasures for future generations

Boston’s Mayor Michelle Wu, Boston Public Library’s president David Leonard, BPL staff, key project team members and the public – celebrated the reopening of the BPL’s Special Collections Department.
September 28, 2022
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On Tuesday, September 13 Finegold Alexander Architects – along with Boston’s Mayor Michelle Wu, Boston Public Library’s president David Leonard, BPL staff, key project team members and the public – celebrated the reopening of the Boston Public Library’s Special Collections Department. The BPL’s trove of historically important treasures includes among other items rare books, original manuscripts, prints, music, fine arts, and photography. The newly renovated space ensures the continued public access to—and the preservation of—these irreplaceable artifacts.

Newly reopened Special Collections public lobby, designed by Finegold Alexander Architects (photo by Raj Das Photography)

Finegold Alexander’s design addresses the needs of both staff and visitor. Administrative offices, the conservation work area, the collections stack and storage areas were reconfigured for more efficient operations. The public lobby and reading room now feature climate-controlled display cases, encouraging patrons to spend time and engage with the historic materials. Other building improvements include mechanical upgrades, the installation of a state-of-the-art fire suppression system throughout, and an enhanced security system. The $15.7 million project features 7 miles of stack shelving and museum-quality resources for over ¼ million books in a collection that spans centuries.

Above left: A BPL staff member presents historic artifacts for inspection by visitors after the ribbon cutting ceremony; above right: the renovation features 7 miles of stack shelving to accommodate the world-class collection. (photos by Tony Hsiao)
Book of Hours in new display case, opened to the beginning of the Office for the Dead, Italian, 1498. (photo by Tony Hsiao)

As reported in the Boston Globe, Mayor Michelle Wu praised the renovations in an interview at the library on GBH Radio: “We have some of the foremost gems of our country’s intellectual history right here in this building,” she said. “And if you go in the back, there’s now wide-open windows where you can see where they preserve it. ... It’s like a science lab in parts of it. It’s really incredible, the work that happens here.”

Above left: Display of preparatory sketches for Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey; above right: the Robert Aitken Bible, the first complete English-language bible printed in America, 1782. (photos by Tony Hsiao).

Some of the exciting documents in the collection include original printings of the Declaration of Independence; Robert McCloskey’s sketches and preliminary drawings for Make Way for Ducklings; a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, which was printed in his lifetime; and the Robert Aitken Bible, known as “The Bible of the Revolution”, the first complete English-language bible to be printed in America.

In a video shared with the public (above), the BPL’s President David Leonard spoke to the mission of both the Library and the Special Collections Department: “These collections belong to the people of Boston. We are simply their custodians. And with the opening of the new space, we look forward to welcoming casual and scholarly researchers to explore and discover these amazing treasures.”

Above left: a view of the public lobby shortly after the ribbon cutting ceremony; above right: project team members (shown L to R): Charlie Penta, Rob Melvin, Finegold Alexander Senior Associate and Project Manager Lara Pfadt, and Mary Silveria. (photos by Tony Hsiao)

Finegold Alexander Architects is proud to be part of this effort and is excited to share photos of the space as we launch the landing page of the BPL Special Collections project on our firm’s website, which you can now see, here.