"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Ring the Alarm…

Some disturbing news via Glenn Stout’s blog, Verbal Plow:

Red Sox history is being sent in exile. The city wants to close the Microtext Department at the BPL which cares for, services and houses newspapers and other collections on microfilm, the department that literally provides access to the history of not only the Red Sox, but the Bruins, the Patriots, the Boston Marathon, the Boston Garden, Fenway Park, the old Boston Arena, the Huntington Avenue Grounds, Harvard Stadium, Boston College,…you get the idea. The city wants to close the department, move some of the film to West Roxbury, disperse the rest to other BPL departments, can the staff, squander decades of institutional knowledge, and use the space they recently spent gazillions renovating for the department, for, oh, I don’t know, weddings or cocktail parties. Once they do that the ability to do the kind of research it takes to write a serious book about Red Sox history becomes almost impossible – having the resources you need in one place, at one time, is invaluable and irreplaceable.

I know this not just from my own experience, but because when I was at the BPL I helped local sports writers like Steve Buckley and national guys like Sports Illustrated’s Frank Deford use these resources. I remember one guy in particular I helped – named Halberstam. Won a Pulitzer Prize that helped stop the Vietnam War and wrote a really great book about the Red Sox–Summer of ’49. Ever heard of him?

He could not have written that book without the BPL, and neither could Dan Shaughnessy have written The Curse of the Bambino, Howard Bryant Shut Out, Richard Johnson and I Red Sox Century, Ed Linn Hitter, Leigh Montville The Big Bam or any other author, like Buckley or Bill Nowlin or Bill Reynolds, who have written anything worthwhile about Red Sox history. None of these books – none – could have been done without the newspapers on microfilm at the Boston Public Library. Fenway 1912, which I just finished and comes out next year, would have been impossible.

And here’s the really, really awful part. This is supposed to save the city money. But this department, like much the Library, actually earns back every dime a hundred times over. I am just one of thousands of writers who use or have used the Library, who make special trips to Boston just to use the library and end up spending money on a lot of other things, or have lived in Boston, in part, because the Library was one of the places that make Boston a place worth living. Every book written by any writer on any subject who has used the Library – we’re talking thousands of books that have sold millions and millions of copies, here – pours money right back into city coffers every day of every week.

But if they get rid of the Microtext department and exile and disperse Red Sox history, this won’t happen. All those books still waiting to be written about the Red Sox just won’t get written. The neighborhood of baseball – and the City of Boston – will be poorer for it.

To complain, email, write or call Amy Ryan, President of the Boston Public Library aeryan@bpl.org, or Jamie McGlone, Clerk to the Board of Trustees jmcglone@bpl.org, 700 Boylston St., Boston MA 02116 617-536-5400, Mayor Thomas Menino,mayor@cityofboston.gov, 1 City Hall Square, Boston, MA 02201-2013 , 617.635.4500, or attend the BPL’s Annual Meeting on Tuesday, May 11, 2010, 8:30am, at the Copley Square Library.

Categories:  Bronx Banter  Glenn Stout  Sportswriting

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1 glennstout   ~  Apr 21, 2010 1:58 pm

And for the record, guys, I used the BPL (as well as places like the NYPL , Brooklyn PL and Chicago PL) as my primary research site for Yankees Century, The Cubs and Dogers as well - their collection is comprehensive and national. The BPL has extensive micro runs of the Times (also online), Tribune, Post and Daily News.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Apr 21, 2010 2:14 pm

I had maybe a naive sense of optimism about the state of libraries after reading Marilyn Johnson's book. But this is a sobering kick in the gut--or lower.

3 Chyll Will   ~  Apr 21, 2010 2:58 pm

It's disturbing that during budget crises, the arts and education are always the first to experience reduction; as though these areas are superfluous to common knowledge. The fact is, as education and culture has been scaled back, so society's standard of living has regressed to such a point that we lag behind so-called Third World countries who outperform us in critical areas that effect the whole world. Really, for what? To preserve a mode of life for a small percentage who control the lives of the majority and have willfully neglected their standard of living? What's next, cyber-sharecropping? This is further proof of the bamboozling of the American public by the corporate bourgeoisie masquerading as public officials.

Sigh. Deep breathing exercise, find my center, pretend that none of this matters, act like I didn't say any of that, pass gas, repeat...

4 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 21, 2010 3:47 pm

Is it not possible to make the same resources available online? Or, would that project be even more expensive than keeping the BPL in operation?

Also, if so many authors are making use of the place, perhaps they could organize to provide funding? An effort like that might have more of an impact than simply complaining to civil servants who have to face a shrinking bottom line.

5 rbj   ~  Apr 21, 2010 3:55 pm

The library where I work has been hit hard the last few years. The director's slot basically went away (there is a library director, but he's using the assistant director slot), one of us 3 reference librarians has for years been doing media services for the college rather than working in the library, the head of cataloging got moved over to reference (as one of us three) leaving that position empty, and now she just got laid off on Monday. So we are basically down four positions from where we should be. And our budget has been cut again.

6 RIYank   ~  Apr 21, 2010 4:02 pm

[4] The digitizing is very expensive. Of course, once it's done the material is vastly more useful, and as you say it can be put on line and made much more widely available.
My suggestion would be for the BPL to donate the stuff, maybe in chunks to different institutions. Wouldn't Harvard be interested in a lot of it, MIT, Williams College (how about the Steinbrenner Collection?)? Or might Google be interested?

7 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 21, 2010 4:10 pm

[6] I'd love to read about some of the battles that ensued over spending large sums to convert hard copies to microfilm. They'd probably sound familiar.

After doing some reading on Boston.com about the issue, I don't sense the Armageddon that Glenn suggests. If the issue is really about decentralizing the archive, well, what's so wrong with that? Will propsective authors really not make the effort to access what supposedly is an invaluable resource?

If anything, the real "victims" are those communities losing their branches, not book authors who have the means to access the information they need.

8 mrm1970   ~  Apr 21, 2010 4:48 pm

Yeah, those third world countries are *killing* us when it comes to advanced Red Sox-related research.

9 NYYfan22   ~  Apr 21, 2010 5:35 pm

times are tough.. cut funding here. cut funding there. library? who needs a library? we're living in the now.. [then 20 years from now] hey! look at all this stuff that someone found in a sealed basement somewhere. oh yeah... from the old library. let's pour 30M in to rebuild it in all its glory!

dumb politicians. the only good thing that comes out of that is once the material becomes easily accessible again there tends to be a drove of young blood who will tear it up and write a plethora of good stuff. of course, the bad part is a) overall, it's unnecessary and wasteful, and b) once moved, the odds go up that the material could be lost or ruined.

10 Chyll Will   ~  Apr 21, 2010 5:41 pm

Of course if the Ded Sox were relevant to the bigger picture, we'd be naked and bleeding in the gutter like they are now >;)

11 glennstout   ~  Apr 22, 2010 6:01 am

The entire point of a research library - and much of its value - lies in having information in once place. Decentralization would be like putting up a fence between home and first. You can still play the game, and get there, but it's a lot more difficult and makes scoring tougher. Or, for another metaphor, decentralization be be like making you go to a specific computer terminal to read the Banter. "What's so wrong with that? Won't Banter fans make the effort?" Splitting up a collection makes research moore difficult and as a result much lesss gets done. Lack of access is a form of censorship. As far as digitilization goes, if there isn't money for staff, there isn't money for newer technologies.

People use libraries for a variety of reasons, and writing books is just one of them - the genealogists are even madder than I am. A large institution like the the BPL or NYPL attracts hundreds of people a year who use the library for all mkinds of research. In regard to authors, the result is that books are published, authors are paid, people buy books, the companies that make books employ people, as do bookstores, and the government taxes commerce and income, which then come back to support services like libraries, a place where, at no cost, you can educate yourself, the ultimate empowerment. That is how libraries are arguably cost effective government services.

12 Professor Longnose   ~  Apr 22, 2010 11:40 am

Halberstam needed to do a bit more research for Summer of '49. According to Bill James, the book is a pile of errors of fact.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver