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Archives Department

Guide to the Archives Department of Boston Public Library's Special Collections

Collections information

Boston Public Library has been collecting archival collections since the early years of the library and archival collections are present across subject areas.

Rare Books & Manuscripts Department collections bring together materials from around the world, with a particular focus on the history of Boston and New England. Learn more about the Rare Books & Manuscripts Department.

Other archival collections were collected by the former Special Collections, Fine Arts, Music, and Prints Departments. Learn more about the Arts Department (Fine Arts, Music, Photography, and Prints & drawings). Archives are also present in the collections of the Leventhal Map & Education Center.

Some of these collections have been processed and described in finding aids, some are represented by minimal records, but most are unprocessed.

Browse a partial list of our archival collections!
We are adding new collections to this list all the time.
Please reach out for more information.

Archival collections found in Rare Books & Manuscripts include collections documenting Boston and New England history, including:

We also have collections documenting 19th-century American social and political movements, the most significant being American abolitionist and anti-slavery movements.

For more information about our archival collections in Rare Books & Manuscripts, please visit the Rare Books & Manuscripts Department website or contact the Rare Books & Manuscripts Department.

We have many important collections related to the history of the arts and arts organizations, especially in the Boston area. Some highlights include: 

We also hold major collections of original drawings and designs by significant architects and architectural firms of the early nineteenth century through the late twentieth century featuring records of active local firms. Architectural firms represented include: 

  • Peabody & Stearns (1870-1917) 
  • William G. Preston (1860s-1890s) 
  • Maginnis and Walsh (1913-1980, including successor firms)  

 

For more information about our archival collections
in the Arts, please visit the Arts Department website
or contact the Arts Department.

BPL Institutional Records

BPL holds extensive records about the history and functions of the institution. These records have been managed in different ways over time and records management work is in progress. 

Many of our early records are inventoried at a file level, based on the original record creators' arrangement, but we do not, at this time, have a complete inventory. For questions about BPL history and records, please contact the Archives Team and we will do our best to research your question. 

Depending on what you are looking for, you may find some interesting information about the early decades of the library in the annual reports and Trustees Records, both of which have been digitized and are available on Internet Archive.

Local TV news collections at BPL

WHDH Film Collection at BPL

The WHDH Film Collection (WHDH-TV television archive) includes news coverage and special programs broadcast between 1961 and 1972, with the exception of sports broadcasting and content, which was sold to Channel 38. The collection was donated to BPL by WHDH (formerly WHDH-TV) in February 1975, along with a card catalog inventory of the clips. 

The collection consists of approximately 23,426 clips (film and videotape) of news sequences and special programs, and represents the station's entire library at the time of donation, with the exception of the sports component.

Accessing the collection

A small portion of the WHDH collection (138 items) was digitized as part of the Boston TV News Digital Library, a collaboration between the Boston Public Library, Cambridge Community television, Northeast Historic Film, and WGBH Educational Foundation which aims to bring to life local news stories produced in and about Boston from the early 1960s to 2000. The site also hosts TV recordings from WGBH, CCTV, and WCVB. The card catalog inventory for the WHDH collection was transcribed as part of the project and is searchable on the site. 

Though only a portion of the clips was digitized as part of a pilot project, the full WHDH collection card catalog descriptions were added to this site's database. The original WHDH-TV News Footage Archive card catalog is also available online on Internet Archive.

Search Tip: You can search the Boston TV News Digital Library using the search bar at the top right corner of the page. Once you complete a search, make sure to check the "include non-video assets" box at the top of the search results. This will ensure that you are searching the full database, including clips that have not been digitized.

Screenshot of Boston TV News Digital Library homepage with search bar and featured photograph of two news cameraman with equipment

A BPL pilot project to digitize additional WHDH clips was completed in 2021. Approximately 10,072 clips - from 10 seconds to 40 minutes in length - were digitized and minimally described as part of the pilot project. These clips will be available in Digital Commonwealth in 2022.

For a variety of reasons, BPL does not have the capacity at this time to support additional AV digitization on demand for patrons. AV collections, particularly the WHDH collection which includes fragile film and videotape, require a complex process for preservation and digitization for access. AV digitization activity is currently on hold at BPL while we develop programmatic priorities and build a preservation program that can support this work.


About WHDH-TV

WHDH-TV was a Boston-area television station (channel 5) that aired from 1957 to 1972. WHDH-TV was owned by the Boston Herald Traveler Corporation, along with WHDH radio, which originally shared studio facilities with the television station, until new television studios were built in Dorchester in early 1960. WHDH broadcast newscasts under WHDH-TV News and employed news anchors John Day, Jack Hynes, John Henning, Chet Curtis, and Natalie Johnson, and sports anchor Don Gillis, among others. WHDH was the television home of the Boston Red Sox baseball franchise from 1958 to 1971. WHDH-TV ceased operations on March 18, 1972, following the revocation of the station's license. Channel 5 was immediately taken over by WCVB-TV which began broadcasts on the network on March 19, 1972.

Copyright and use

Boston Public Library does not hold the rights to WHDH content. It is entirely up to the user to secure proper permissions from the rights holder(s), determine if the content in question is in the public domain, determine if the use falls within the parameters of the license, and/or determine if the intended use may be considered exempt from copyright restrictions under the fair use section of U.S. copyright law. For our digitized content, we do not apply any further licensing restrictions beyond those already asserted by the copyright holder.

When using clips from the WHDH Film Collection, we ask that you include a citation/credit line for the clip as follows:

"[Clip title]", [clip date]. WHDH Film Collection, Boston Public Library.

WNAC-TV Film Collection at BPL

The WNAC-TV broadcast television archive consists of 86 reels and likely came to Boston Public Library in the early 1980s after the station signed off on May 22, 1982. Clips included in the collection are primarily from the 1970s and include news broadcasts and special programming including "Bostonia".

Accessing the collection

As of 2022, the WNAC-TV collection is unprocessed and does not have a complete inventory.

For a variety of reasons, BPL does not have the capacity at this time to support additional AV digitization on demand for patrons. AV collections, particularly the WNAC collection which includes fragile videotape, require a complex process for preservation and digitization for access. AV digitization activity is currently on hold at BPL while we develop programmatic priorities and build a preservation program that can support this work.


About WNAC-TV

WNAC-TV was a television station that aired from 1948-1982 on channel 7 in the Boston area.

WBZ-TV

  • Received by BPL circa 1978

WSBK (UPN 38) sports broadcasts

  • Donated to BPL circa 1994-1995
  • Includes various videotape formats primarily VHS, U-Matic, and 2" Quad

Accessing these collections

As of 2022, these local TV news collections are unprocessed and do not have complete inventories.

For a variety of reasons, BPL does not have the capacity at this time to support additional AV digitization on demand for patrons. AV collections, which includes fragile film and videotape, require a complex process for preservation and digitization for access. AV digitization activity is currently on hold at BPL while we develop programmatic priorities and build a preservation program that can support this work.

Transferred collections

Some collections that were historically held at BPL, have since been transferred to other institutions. Collections are transferred for a variety of reasons:

  • The collection no longer meets BPL’s collecting policy and is more relevant to another institutions’ collecting area. We try to keep collections on similar research subjects together. BPL is happy to help facilitate research by working with our colleagues at other institutions to keep related collections together. 
  • Collections with special formats may be better cared for by an institution specially equipped to care for and provide access to those materials. 

Most of our transferred collections are City of Boston records. Some City of Boston records were temporarily held by the library but eventually transferred to the City of Boston Archives after sufficient space was acquired to store city records.

The following collections have been transferred to the City of Boston Archives and are no longer held by Boston Public Library: 

  • Kathleen Sullivan Alioto Papers. Chair of the Boston School Committee from 1973-1979. Transferred to City of Boston Archives, 2012. 

  • Boston 200 Records. Planning materials for the Bicentennial including correspondence, financial reports, oral histories, press releases, and photographs. Transferred to City of Boston Archives, 2014.

  • Boston City Hospital Collection. Transferred to City of Boston Archives, 2014. 

  • Mayor John F. Collins Records. Mayor of Boston from 1960-1967. Transferred to City of Boston Archives, 2013. 

  • Mayor James M. Curley Collection*. Mayor of Boston (1914-1917, 1922-1925, 1930-1933, 1946-1949) and held other offices in both city and state government. Transferred to City of Boston Archives, 2012.

*BPL still holds a collection of James M. Curley correspondence from before his mayoral tenure.  

The following collections have been transferred to other institutions and are no longer held by Boston Public Library: 

  • Records of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, 1918-1981Minutes, reports, correspondence, etc., of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, which advocated for informed, active participation of citizens in government. Previously on deposit at BPL and transferred to the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, 2009. 

Contact us & hours

Connect with BPL Archives staff!
 
  • Questions about archival collections?
  • Need help navigating archives.bpl.org?
  • Want to help us by suggesting changes to our collection descriptions?

Reach out to BPL Archivists directly at archives@bpl.org
The Special Collections Reading Room is closed for renovations until mid-2022.

Until then, collections are unavailable for in-person research. Once the Special Collections Reading Room is open for research, materials will be requestable from archives.bpl.org and the library catalog. 

Location
Archives Department
Boston Public Library
700 Boylston Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116

Hours
Monday through Friday
9 a.m. - 5 p.m.