By: J.D. Ross
Catherine Willis G’00 has written a book on the history of the Boston Public Library, and will present her work as part of the Author Talk series at Boston’s Central Library at Copley Square on August 24.
“I wanted this book to be more than just a collection of photos illustrating the history, the art, and the architecture of the library,” said Willis. “I hope that the book will be thought of as a celebration of the people, the collections, and the buildings that have served the Boston Public Library and the citizens of Boston so well since 1848.”
Published by Arcadia Publishing as part of their Images of America series, the 128-page book explores the history of the first large municipally funded public library in the United States. It includes over 200 photos that span the Library's 163-year history.
According to Willis, some of the more interesting facts that she uncovered during her research for the book include,
• The original idea for the library was first proposed by French ventriloquist Alexandre Vattemare in 1841.
• In 1871, it was the first library in the country to open a branch library. The early branch libraries often moved from storefront to storefront and over the years, there have been branch libraries at 127 different addresses in Boston.
• The library’s twin lions that flank the main staircase of the McKim building were created 15 years before the New York Public Library’s twin lions were carved.
• The library’s special collections contain a wide variety of materials, and the Sacco and Vanzetti collection includes one of the library’s most unusual items: an urn containing the commingled ashes of the anarchists.
Willis was born and raised in the Chicagoland area, and moved to Syracuse in 1990. In 2002, she moved to Boston and began working at the Boston Public Library. She is an active member of several professional associations, and in 2007 was awarded the New England Library Association’s Award for Excellence in Library Technical Services.