May 29, 2015
Boston Public Library just can’t keep track of its collections
by Julia Fleischaker
The Boston Public Library is facing criticism over how it takes care of its collection after donating a rare 18th century book to a local nonprofit. The Prospects Before Us was published in 1799 by James Callender as part of a campaign against President John Adams, launched with the help of Callender’s secret patron, Thomas Jefferson.
Dredging up the pro-monarchy charges that always dogged Adams, Callender accused the president of being “mentally deranged,” planning to crown himself king, and grooming John Quincy as his heir to the throne. Adams was a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Adams, alleged Callender, had brought about The Quasi-War crisis with France through his own “steadfast antipathy” toward the former ally. In other words, Adams’ reelection would result in war; Jefferson’s election would ensure peace.
The publication landed Callender in jail for violating the Sedition Act, but he was later pardoned by President Jefferson. After giving away their copy, the local NBC station reported that, essentially, the library just got lucky.
The man who received the pamphlet did research and then contacted the library, telling them it was rare and valuable.
The 18th century political pamphlet called “The Prospect Before Us” by James Callender was donated to the Citywide Friends group.
A statement from the library said books are often donated as part of the library collection management process. Callender’s pamphlet was identified as a duplicate and donated, but Citywide Friends contacted the library several months later, concerned over the pamphlet’s value.
The library reportedly reviewed the collection and found that was the only copy.
It’s not just books. Last month, as we reported earlier this week, art works by Albrecht Durer and Rembrandt were found to be missing. The works were valued at $60,000. According to ABC, “An audit of the Boston Public Library says it ineffectively protects its special collections, haphazardly stores valuables, and does not keep a complete inventory of prized possessions.”
The audit says the library used guesses to estimate current holdings, often based on guesses made years ago.
In a statement, the Library says they “remain vigilant to how we are curating the more than 23 million items held at the Boston Public Library.”
Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.