Beacon Street Diary

Archives: March 2021

March 30, 2021

by Sara Trotta, Librarian

It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter.

Friends of the library will remember that just as things were beginning to shut down in March 2020, the Congregational Library was reaching the end of a large renovation that would improve workspaces and give us more room for processing collections, hosting events and launching exhibitions, among other things. We were living out of boxes, and in fact, I spent my last day on site setting up my new desk in my new office, not realizing it would be nearly 6 months until I got to use it. In addition to this, the building owners have been doing their own renovations, preparing for new tenants, updating heating systems, and, most relevant to us, restoring the large windows from our reading room, offices, and stacks that overlook the granary burial ground.

The pandemic brought everything to an abrupt halt, and these renovations were no exception. Our own renovation had a few lingering details to wrap up, and the question of when our windows would be removed (and returned) was suddenly in limbo. While the windows in the three offices off the stacks (one of which is mine) were restored and returned months earlier, we were waiting for the restoration for the window in the stacks and the reading room to be scheduled. This project would be a lot more disruptive to the work of the library so we could adequately protect portions of the collection shelved closest to the windows in the stacks and reading room. It was a small blessing then that most of this work was able to take place while we were already working from home the majority of the time.

When we began our own renovation, one of the most common things I heard from visitors was a deeply concerned “I hope you’re not going to do anything to the reading room!”. Our reading room is a bit of a showstopper. The building was constructed in part to house the library, and our reading room retains this Victorian charm with many of the original decorations and fixtures intact. It boasts a Tiffany-decorated, two-story ceiling, beautiful wood shelving and roll-top reference desk, and nearly floor-to-ceiling-windows that overlook the granary burial ground. I brag often about what a lovely workspace I have. Removing these windows for restoration meant boarding the space up with insulated plywood, removing all natural light and covering furniture in protective tarps.

Physical spaces have a strong impact on our moods. Window restoration took much longer than anticipated, partially because of the pandemic but also because restoring 100+ year old windows is actually extremely complicated (who knew?!). I won’t lie and say it was easy, as the pandemic dragged on and we slowly returned to physical work in the library, to feel like we still couldn’t properly unpack from a move and to walk into a dimly lit space. It has been a long, cold, lonely winter. But things are looking up! The days are starting to get longer and warmer. Vaccinations are progressing meaning that we will be welcoming patrons and researchers back into our space in the near future. And just last week, our reading room windows returned ensuring we can see all the buds just starting to grow back on the trees. There’s a lot to look forward to.

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes!

March 25, 2021

by Zachary Bodnar, Archivist

It has been a little while since I have last written a blog here on the Beacon Street Diary. And that is because we have been hard at work migrating our New England’s Hidden Histories (NEHH) collections to Quartex, our new Digital Asset Management system. We have been, one by one, uploading NEHH collections into Quartex and providing each and every item brand new metadata, enhancing both the searchability of individual items and bringing much needed descriptive clarity that will help users find relations between disparate items and collection. I hope you are excited because the team here at the CLA is absolutely ecstatic. You will be able to explore these important digital collections in many new and exciting ways that greatly enhance the research experience and hopefully introduce these records to many more people.

I am happy to officially report that Phase 1 of this three-part migration project has now been completed and on schedule. Phase 1 was focused on the comparatively smaller NEHH collections. This allowed us to work on many collections over a shorter period of time, which hashelped the team to get familiar with, and further refine, the migration workflow. We have completed the migration of 97 NEHH collections into Quartex. This accounts for approximately 60% of the total number of NEHH collections (but not necessarily 60% of the total volume of NEHH). Each collection is comprised of individual items; to date we have uploaded over 297 items, (also sometimes referred to as assets or resources depending on the context). Each of these items is comprised of multiple images, the vast majority of which are JPEGs. In total, we have uploaded over 39,000 images. Phase 2 will change focus to somewhat larger, by volume, and more complex collections, but, based on the work we have already completed, we are expecting to remain on schedule. This means that we still believe that our soft launch date of early Fall is still reasonable and within reach.

Phase 1, in many ways, was the proof-of-concept phase of this migration project as it allowed us to put our workflows through the ringer in a controlled environment. And, more importantly, phase 1 offered us plenty of opportunities to work with a wide variety of materials and to experiment with ways to make those records more visible and easily found.  Navigation can be the difference maker when it comes to ensuring someone can find the exact item they are lookingfor. After a few months working with Quartex, we are hopeful that we will be able to provide excellent navigation to all our materials.

In the past I have talked about linked metadata as an important part of the navigation formula, and this remains true. It is safe to say that most of our metadata work is focused on attaching relevant subject, geographic, name, and genre terms to every asset. But today I wanted to talk about a couple of other features in Quartex that enhance navigation; the first of which will look quite familiar to our current users of NEHH.

Within NEHH we have arranged records into three browsable “series”. This was an early decision to help with navigation by grouping like materials into a single web page. With Quartex, and its asset-first approach to browsing, the concept of series has become largely moot. However, we still felt that it was important to maintain individual collection pages, analogous to the current NEHH collection pages, and a list of all manuscript collections. Quartex has allowed us to do that, to great effect. Using an A-Z page, we have been creating an updated and accurate list of collections, with abstracts, that navigate to more specific collection pages. On these collection pages, we provide either a historical or biographical note and an image representative of the collection, as well as links to external finding aids or catalog records when appropriate. These collection pages also allow for the user to browse, search, and refine a list of every single asset associated with that collection. Though our work with Quartex will greatly change how we present and make accessible our NEHH collections, as well as all of our non-NEHH digital holdings, some of the good lessons we learned from NEHH have been and will be applied moving forward.

Another area I am greatly excited for is navigation within individual assets. Many of the items within NEHH are bulky record books that are sometimes hundreds of pages long. Finding what you are looking for in that record book can sometimes be a frustrating exercise, one I know all too well. But one tool that Quartex gives us may be able to help. Each asset may be divided into “sections”, each with their own unique name. We have not employed sections extensively yet; really, we’ve only done some light experimenting. But already we can see the potential of this feature. “Tête-bêche” volumes, where usually two distinct records begin at each cover until they meet in the middle, can be split into sections to easily navigate to the two different beginnings in the record. And within Benjamin Wadsworth’s voluminous collection of essay-styled sermons and theological writings, we have used sections to help navigate between the various old testament books Wadsworth wrote about. It may be a long way off, but I sincerely hope that we will have the capability and bandwidth to use sections more extensively in the future to help people navigate these large record books.

The possibilities that Quartex introduce are seemingly limitless, and we keep on finding new andinteresting ways to use features to improve and enhance both the browsing and searching user experiences. Though we are still many months away from our planned soft launch, I already cannot wait to unveil the full scope of this important project and let researchers, genealogists, students, and interested knowledge seekers browse and search these records.

March 23, 2021

by William McCarthy, reference and processing archivist

While the staff of the CLA have been working from home, we have continued to remain engaged with our collections even while separated from them. Please note that the collections highlighted are not available online unless otherwise noted.

Today, I am going to highlight the Grand Rapids, Michigan, South Congregational Church records, 1890-2001, RG4657. The collection arrived at the Congregational Library in 2001 after the church officially closed. Our archivist processed the collection in November of 2001. The collection is on the larger side with 25 boxes total.

The origins of the church started in 1874 when the Park Church Women’s Missionary Board organized a Sunday School in the African M.E. Church on Franklin Street. Two years later a chapel was completed after a canvassing for funds. The church was officially organized on December 12, 1878 with 43 charter members. The newly formed church became a member of the Grand River Conference a year later.

The church was moved to the corner of Delaware and Sheldon in 1886. The 1890s saw four different pastors come and go, culminating with a fire in 1897. The fire did not completely destroy the building and a successful rebuilding effort kicked off soon after. In 1936, another fire would happen during repairs but would not destroy the entire building. During the 1940s the membership increased exponentially and necessitated a new home. The first parts of the new church would be completed in 1949. On April 21, 1967 a tornado destroyed over half of the church's buildings, including the pipe organ and sanctuary. Most of the buildings would be refurbished by the end of 1970. The church mortgage would also be paid off in 1970 and membership started to see a decline across the decade. Those declines would steadily continue until 2001, when the church officially decided to close.

Our collection on the South Congregational Church is separated into eight series. The first series contains annual reports and congregational meeting notes. Series two focuses on records of the Board of Trustees and includes the constitution and by-laws. Series three is on the building and financial records, such as building planning, sales, mortgage records, insurance, account books and treasurer’s records. Series four contains records on the various societies of the church, including the Ladies Aid Society, Top of the Hill Club, Serving Team and the World Service. Series five is about the ministers of the church, especially the pastorate of Earl Collings. The sixth series focuses on the membership records of the church, including member lists, baptisms, marriages, dismissal letters and yearbook reports. The seventh series is on historical records, such as histories, photographs, certificates and information on a cornerstone capsule. The final series contains church bulletins and two different church newsletters, the “South Church Page” and “Messenger”.

Our collection on the South Congregational Church is filled with records from over 110 years of history and serves as an excellent example of what the Congregational Library and Archives offers!The legacy finding aid for this collection can be found HERE. If you have any interest in viewing this collection once the library reopens, or you have any other CLA related questions, do not hesitate to reach out to us at Stay safe and have a great day!

March 2, 2021

by William McCarthy, Reference and Processing Archivist

While the staff of the CLA have been working from home, we have continued to remain engaged with our collections even while separated from them. Please note that the collections highlighted are not available online unless otherwise noted.

Today, I am going to highlight one of our larger, more well-known collections, the Old South Church in Boston, RG0028. The collection first arrived with us in 1976 and we received additional materials in 1982, 1989, 1997 and 2013. The collection has likewise gone through a few different processing iterations, most recently in 2018. With over 57 boxes and 141 volumes, it is one of the library's largest and most significant collections.

Twenty-eight lay members from the First Church in Boston founded the Old South Congregation (originally called the Third Church of Boston) in 1669. In 1670, the congregation met in the Cedar Meetinghouse for the first time and soon became known as South Church since it was in the south end of town. “Old” was added in 1717 to distinguish it from another church being built, which called itself New South. In 1875, construction on a new church for the Old South congregation finished on the corners of Dartmouth and Boylston Streets. This new site has been Old South's home since. A trademark feature of the Old South Church is its campanile, or tower, which can be seen from several Boston neighborhoods. The church continues to thrive today.

The collection is divided into nine series and twenty-three subseries. Our first series focuses on Legal and Building records and includes a Deed of Land from 1669, among other documents related to land ownership. The second series focuses on numerous Organizations affiliated with Old South Church and includes the Maternal Association, Old South Club, Sewing Circle, Temperance Association, and various educational groups. The third series describes the various church records, such as vital statistics, annual reports, letters of admission and membership indexes. This series contains the record book that logs the baptism of Benjamin Franklin (image attached)!


Series four touches on the ministers and deacons of the church and includes notes, sermons, correspondences, and journals. Frederick M. Meek is the minister most represented in this collection with over 300 sermons! The fifth series in the collection covers committee records and pew proprietor records. The sixth series covers material related to Rev. Thomas Prince who bequeathed his literary collection to the church and now resides at the Boston Public Library, it includes correspondences and catalogs. The seventh series of the collection focuses on financial information, mainly that of the treasurer’s records and pew accounts. Series eight is the collection’s smallest and contains photographs and newspaper clippings related to the church. The final collection contains various publications by the church and includes published histories, audio-visual material, published catalogs, bulletins and printed copies of the Old South Record.

As you can see, this collection is filled to the brim with interesting historical information and documents a period of over 350 years! Viewing this collection is a truly fruitful experience and once the library has returned to a normal schedule you should visit!

The legacy finding aid for this collection can be found HERE. If you have any interest in viewing this collection once the library reopens, or you have any other CLA related questions, do not hesitate to reach out to us at Stay safe and have a great day!