Syracuse University iSchool Library Science Road Trip to Boston

Library Science Road Trip: Boston

This semester, the iSchool offered MS in Library and Information Science students the opportunity to travel to Boston for a whirlwind two-day trip full of library tours and networking with alums. It was a fulfilling experience that allowed us to think critically about the field and our future roles as librarians.

iSchool LIS Students at the Boston Public Library (L-R): Kara Conley, Kim Hoffman, Kayla Del Biondo, Nicole Potter, Jill Scarson.
iSchool LIS Students at the Boston Public Library (L-R): Kara Conley, Kim Hoffman, Kayla Del Biondo, Nicole Potter, Jill Scarson.

Day 1

UMass Medical Library

After driving through torrential rain, our first stop was the Lamar Soutter Library at UMass Medical School in Worcester. There, we were graciously met by Mary Piorun, the Director of the Library, and Penny Glassman, the Head of Technological Initiatives.

Mary and Penny explained that over 500 medical students at UMass are broken up into five learning communities, or “houses.” A librarian is assigned to each house to assist students throughout their academic career, from first to fourth years. On top of supporting the med students, the librarians help researchers, clinicians, nurses, public health students, AND members of the public find evidence-based medical research.

To say that we were impressed with their responsibilities would be an understatement.

Part of the graphic medicine collection at the Lamar Soutter Library.
Part of the graphic medicine collection at the Lamar Soutter Library.

We also viewed a number of unique collections during our visit. The library contained a substantial archive of rare objects, including the papers of the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research, which was the institution that developed the world’s first oral contraceptive. Also, they have a large number of items regarding women in medicine and medical graphic novels. More information on the library and archives can be found on their website.

Boston Public Library

Next, we were off to the Central Library of the Boston Public Library (BPL). The BPL completed a massive renovation in 2016 that transformed the older building into an innovative community space for Bostonians. While I could write multiple blogs praising the renovations, here were the highlights:

The design

The built environment is extremely important in the creation of community space. The more welcoming the space, the more likely the public will use it. Luckily, the new Central Library took this idea to heart. For starters, they removed tinted windows and granite screens, creating a warm space full of natural lighting. The designers infused pops of color throughout the library to brighten things up. It was refreshing without being overwhelming. The Library also did an amazing job integrating technology into the new design. The main information desk, for example, has colorful touch screens surrounding it that showcase the library’s digital resources and catalog.

The main welcome desk at the Boston Public Library
The main welcome desk at the Boston Public Library

The new design clearly works. Every single table and chair were occupied when we visited at 3:00 pm on a Thursday. It felt like what a modern community and learning space should look like.

The bright ‘New & Novel’ section of the Boston Public Library
The bright ‘New & Novel’ section of the Boston Public Library

Immigrant Information Corner

Another highlight was the section of the library specifically for information about immigration. The area contained a staffed reference desk, immigration materials and pamphlets, and an opportunity for individuals to sign up for ESL classes or tutoring. We were glad to see these resources visible and accessible for the immigrant population of Boston.

Some of the many resources provided by the Immigrant Information Center
Some of the many resources provided by the Immigrant Information Center

Public radio in the Library

One of the most interesting features added during the renovations was the construction of a satellite recording studio for Boston Public Radio in the cafe area of the library. Not only did this studio broadcast live recordings, but it allowed visitors to record oral histories about their relationship to the city. It was such an innovative way to integrate the community into the library.

Day 2

Boston Athenæum

On Friday morning, we took the T to the Boston Athenæum, an independent private library founded in 1807. The Athenæum overlooks the Granary Burying Ground, famous for being the final resting place of Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and John Hancock. With its beautiful wood furnishings, historic art pieces, and Renaissance revivalist architecture, we felt like we were stepping back in time. It was a stunning place.

The library contains over a half million items, ranging from current books and magazines to over 100,000 rare books. It has a vast art collection of over 100,000 paintings, photographs, prints, maps, and sculptures. Members pay a yearly fee of about $300 to utilize these resources and other library services. While this does bring up some questions about accessibility and inclusivity, the Athenaeum does have a number of resources available for use by the general public. They’ve digitized a large number of rare books and art pieces in their collection, which are available online to all.

The interior of the Boston Athenæum
The interior of the Boston Athenæum

A highlight for us was the Athenaeum’s conservation studio where we met Dawn Walus, the Chief Conservator, and a friendly Australian Shepherd. In her light-filled studio, Dawn showed us the projects she’s working on, which included hand sewing the binding of a rare book with hundreds upon hundreds of pages.

We also want to extend our deep gratitude to Tom Gearty, Syracuse alum ‘76. Not only is Tom is the Serials Librarian at the Athenaeum, he’s also the most welcoming host! He gave us a spectacular tour of their facilities, and we had the opportunity to meet with every staff member.

John C. Wolbach Library, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Although none of us have a background in astronomy or physics, our last stop of the trip to the John C. Wolbach Library at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics was fascinating for us all. Upon arrival, we met with Katie Frey, Assistant Head Librarian, who brought us over to see DASCH (Digital Access to a Star Century at Harvard), the University’s collection of over 500,000 astronomical glass plates.

A glimpse at an illuminated astronomical glass plate at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
A glimpse at an illuminated astronomical glass plate at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

There, we met Lindsay Smith, Curator of Astronomical Photographs, who spoke about the plates’ significance. Before the development of astronomical photography, scientists cataloged the stars’ position, brightness, and other attributes on glass plates. Harvard’s collection is extensive and one of a kind. They show what the night sky looked like on a particular date and location in history. We were all excited to learn that this research was collected by a revolutionary group of women. Their groundbreaking work has been profiled in a new book, The Glass Universe, by Dana Sobel.

Currently, astronomers must physically visit the archive in order to see the plates, which is why Lindsay’s job is so important. She is in charge of the team tasked with digitizing the glass plates. It was incredible to watch the digitization process in real time. If you’re interested in helping out the project, check out the Smithsonian Transcription Center.

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InfoSpace blogger and MS in Library and Information Science student Kayla Del Biondo also contributed to this piece.

Kara Conley

Kara Conley

Kara is a first year MSLIS student at the iSchool. She is the graduate assistant to the MSLIS Program Manager and works part-time at Dewitt Community Library. Kara is passionate about public librarianship, urban design, and Recess coffee.

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