J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Welcome Back, Watertown!

Watertown, Massachusetts, has a public library again. Okay, its public library never closed; the collection and staff just moved to the cramped space of a former elementary school while the old building was expanded and refurbished. But now the main library is open again, with the collection back on the shelves, and it's a terrific building.

Much of the structure is new and shiny, with glass walls and computer terminals everywhere. But the building incorporates the classical wood and plasterwork of the oldest part of the original (parts shown here), making an appropriate home for Watertown's excellent local history collection.

The town's own colonial and Revolutionary records are unusually thorough and have been published in several volumes. The library owns histories on many other Massachusetts localities. And this collection contains what I've come to think of as the big three historical journals for research in pre-Revolutionary Boston:

The last is the hardest to find in a public collection. In addition, if you look around the local history room enough, you can find the Bostonian Society Proceedings, William Lincoln's Records of Each Provincial Congress, Massachusetts Soldiers & Sailors of the Revolution, and many other useful sources not usually found outside a research library. Not all the volumes are in the right order yet, and many spines are shaken, but you can't beat the access at a community library.

One addition to the Watertown library building is a small cafe. I first saw that feature of modern library architecture at the Princeton, New Jersey, library, which has a store as well. (I head to Princeton later this week, and will probably post some items from the terminals there.) A coffee shop seems to have become de rigueur for larger public libraries in the last ten years. The award-winning Newton, Massachusetts, library opened without one before that time, and lately has struggled to adapt a small conference room for that use. It appears that Barnes & Noble and Starbucks have each in their way made it impossible to read without drinking coffee, or drink coffee without reading.

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