Bigelow Free Public Library History Update March 2014

Bigelow Free Public Library: Older Collection History, Update 1

Update on the Trustee Team Effort into Researching the History of the BFPL’s Older Collection, prepared for Trustee Board Meeting, March 20, 2014, by BFPL Trustee Gloria Parkinson

Update Introduction

As the town board responsible for the library, the Board of Trustees is doing its due diligence on many aspects of our present, past and future Bigelow Free Public Library. For some months we’ve been working as a research team on historical aspects of the library’s older collection. This research project is ongoing.

Since members of the Board of Trustees have been involved in varying ways at different times, this update is an opportunity for us to make sure we’re all up-to-date with information sharing and to share our findings with the public. Specifically, this update relates to the trustee-led research phase that is currently underway regarding the history of the library and the history of its older collection. This update does not refer to the ongoing professional appraisals of the older collection. That is a professional business phase in progress that will be reported on and released to the public when the trustees consider that phase is concluded—meaning when the trustees are satisfied that sufficient written reports by a number of professional appraisers have been received. The trustees are committed to have this appraisal process take the time it needs. For more on this matter, we refer the public to the section Assessment of the BFPL’s Older Holdings in our interim report, The Bigelow Free Public Library in Today’s Digital Age of Library Services, made public on February 20, 2014, and which may be found on the library’s web site at

Update on Trustee Historical Research into the BFPL’s Older Collection

We should thank Trustee Susan Franco for sharing her knowledge of the library that comes from her many years as a BFPL librarian and Library Director Marie Mueller for her sleuthing help.

1.     History of the BFPL Collection

–1846: Formation of the Bigelow Mechanics Institute—a private organization

–1852: Formation of The Bigelow Library Association—a private organization

–1852: The Bigelow Mechanics Institute gave 667 volumes to the Bigelow Library   Association

–1873: Establishment of the Bigelow Free Public Library

–1873: The Bigelow Association gave 4,408 books to the Bigelow Free Public Library

–1902: Current Carnegie library built



2.      Location of the BFPL’s  Older Collection

Today’s older collection is currently housed in closed stacks and available upon request, meaning, anyone may request a book which is taken from the closed stacks by professional library staff and delivered to the requestor. Card catalogs for the older collection may be found in public areas of the library.


Closed stacks are not uncommon in libraries, for various reasons.  The BFPL closed stacks on the first floor have been closed for many years. The area is not handicap accessible; the area is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act; because of glass floors on two levels there are safety concerns regarding heavy amounts of foot traffic; there is only one entrance/exit to the area, located in the employee area behind the circulation desk.


3.      History of the BFPL Catalog System

Although the Dewey decimal system of cataloging was available in the 19th century, when the Bigelow Free Public Library was established, the then “powers that be” decided to use a cataloging/classification system of its own. (It may be unique or at least we don’t recognize it at the moment.) The BFPL switched over to the Dewey system sometime between 1977 and 1987. We have located a book dated 1977 using the original system and a 1987 book using the Dewey system.


4.      History of the Older Collection Numbers

As we noted in the interim report of February 20, 2014, the trustees became aware that the library’s total collection numbers (including older and newer collections) did not reflect reality. The physical limitations of the library building simply couldn’t hold 204,755 items as recorded in 2011. Therefore, as previously reported, the library’s entire collection was counted in October 2013. We also noted in our interim report that we believe the inaccuracy of older collection numbers came into being many years ago and its genesis is lost in the mists of time. Recently, however, by happenstance, we have unearthed some information from the distant past.


During this current ongoing appraisal phase, one of today’s appraisers has shared that he visited the BFPL collection 40 years ago together with another appraiser. Soon thereafter he heard that a Worcester book dealer gained access to the stacks and was able to purchase books. The current appraiser noted that today’s older collection looks very different to the one he viewed 40 years ago. As part of our ongoing trustee-led research, we will continue to look for any records of that sale.


From the 1980s on, according to long-standing staff members, numbers of older books were loaned out and never returned (an occupational hazard in a library!); some were cannibalized (images cut out); and some may have been shelved incorrectly. We’ve found examples of incorrect shelving during our trustee-led research project.


As noted earlier, this trustee-led historical research project is ongoing. As we continue our systematic search and discover more, historical information will be released to the public.