Beacon Street Diary

February 11, 2016

The Superbowl was a luxury for Patriots fans this year, at least for some of us. Yes, we lost to Denver and didn't get to play in Santa Clara — but there's something warm and enjoyable about watching a game just for fun, knowing that in the end you'll be pretty much the same emotionally as you were at the beginning. Call me shallow, but I have more than a little scarring, courtesy of the New York Giants and I admit, even Peyton Manning.

Sports radio makes it even more fun. It's basically gossip for men, of course, mostly snark and hearsay about what someone said to somebody else, and can you believe the nerve of those people? It's also generally immature and often sexist and dumb, and sometimes I just have to turn it off and walk away. But over the years I have been a loyal listener. Maybe it's because sports fans are some of the few people out there who appreciate history.

Compare sports radio with other stations, the kind you hear at the gym or shopping malls. Their definition of "oldies" is just puzzling — it seems to be pretty much everything before last month, a mishmash of the rock music I heard in high school in the 1970s up to last week.

At thirteen, my treasured possession was a small plastic transistor radio strapped into in a white fake leather case. That radio, I dearly hoped, was the first step in a wonderful journey. I was on my way to being cool.

Of course, you had to know what station to listen to. In my town it was WBBF, the local top-40 station, "better by far." And you had to keep up with the play list. It changed all the time, force-feeding us the latest new hits (did anybody really like Bobby Goldsboro?) and tracking their progress up or down the popularity chart. You also had to have a favorite song, one you waited for hours through hours of commercials and DJ blather. But that song would only be around a week or two; after a while it kind of disappeared. And so to stay cool you picked another one. And on it went, year after year. The songs ticked off weeks and months and years. "Hey Jude" was sophomore art class (the teacher was extremely cool and let us play the radio) and "Fire and Rain" the background track to moody months of senioritis.

Now oldies can be anything, including some of the dumbest songs I thought I'd never hear again, forgettable 60s schlock with pseudo-hippy outrage and Jesus freak pieties. There is no concept of time in adult contemporary radio any more.

Not so my friends on the sports station. That's where you go to get the long perspective, the endlessly dissected back story behind every "storied rivalry" or devastating loss. I hate the Yankees because of Goose Gossage and Reggie Jackson, all that swagger and spit still fresh after three decades or more. I am a Red Sox fan, but I will always love the Orioles because Eddie Murphy and Ken Singleton and Gary Roenike got me through graduate school. "We Are Family" by Sly and the Family Stone still makes me sad because it was the Pittsburgh Pirates' dopey theme song, the year they beat the Orioles in the World Series.

There are still places in our world today where the past matters, I guess, but you have to look for them. It's worth it though. When you do, you'll find people who really care about something, who have — let's say it — a passion. Maybe that's why some sports still matters so much, even after all the drugs and bad behavior and obscene amounts of money. (Underinflated footballs don't count.) Peyton Manning isn't just another quarterback, any more than Aaron Boone is just another baseball player. As every sports radio diva knows, the past is never really past. It's always alive and ready to bite. It brings pain and sorrow, but also real emotion, genuine feelings. Without history, the container of all those hopes, dreams, and fears, sports and life itself wouldn't matter half as much — and it wouldn't be half as fun.



photograph of vintage transistor radio found via Wikimedia Commons courtesy of user Joe Haupt

February 8, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives is closing at 2:00 pm on Monday, February 8th due to inclement weather so that our staff can get home safely.

All of our online resources will remain available as usual. If you have a question for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we will get back to you when we return to the office tomorrow.

February 5, 2016

Every community group goes through occasional growing pains, and churches are no exception. In "Disorganized Religion", Peggy Bendroth's recent guest post on the UNC Press blog, she explores the ongoing trend away from bloated bureaucracies in American Protestant churches.

Nobody really likes organized religion. It all seems to have so little to do with actual faith — the endless acronyms of denominational programs and taglines, mind-bogglingly complex institutional reorganizations, and the blind impersonality of national synods and assemblies and conferences. It's the cold wet blanket, the flat gray oatmeal that most people imagine when they say they are "spiritual but not religious."

Organized religion just seems so unnecessary. Though American religiosity looks as varied and intense as ever, study after study has shown it drifting loose from the institutional structures that have defined the last two centuries of belief and practice.

Keep reading >>

If you'd like to learn more about the evolution of American Congregationalism from Dr. Bendroth herself, condiser attending our upcoming History Matters event on March 23rd.

January 29, 2016

Our executive director and resident historian Peggy Bendroth has a new book, and the Washington Book Review has said some very nice things about it:

The Last Puritans is a much needed scholarly book on the history of Congregationalists. It gives deep insight into the role that Congregationalism and other Christian denominations played in making America what it is today. It is meticulously researched and well written. Everybody interested in American history and religions will find this book to be of immense value.

If you'd like to learn more on the topic and discuss it with Dr. Bendroth herself, you can attend our upcoming History Matters event on March 23rd.

January 25, 2016

It's been a while since we've promoted our page of resources for church libraries. We have gathered a list of websites, books, and articles to help with everything from getting started to ensuring your collection can be passed down through the generations.

One of the tools we've recommended in recent years is a free online cataloging system called LibraryThing, and now it's even better. The makers of LibraryThing have just launched an extension called TinyCat that turns your basic list of books into a real library catalog. It can help make your catalog records more robust, makes searching easier, is mobile-ready, and even has a circulation system to keep track of when your books are checked out and when they're due.

If you're already using LibraryThing for your church library (or any very small library), TinyCat could make it even better. If you're not using it yet, this might just be the time to start.

January 19, 2016

Did you miss last week's History Matters talk about researching at the Congregational Library & Archives? Are you interested in hearing about a more specific part of our collection? Then you're in luck. Our digital archivist, Sari Mauro, will be presenting at the Boston Public Library next Wednesday as part of their Local & Family History series.

Genealogical Resources at the Congregational Library and Archives

The Congregational Library & Archives offers a treasure trove of unique materials for family historians. From seventeenth-century church records to the personal papers of ministers and missionaries, these materials provide names and dates of past generations as well as insight into a religious tradition that deeply informed American culture. Sari Mauro explores the collections that are of special interest to genealogists, both those accessible online and onsite. Mauro is the Digital Archivist at the Congregational Library & Archives, where she is the primary archivist assigned to New England's Hidden Histories, the library's largest digitization program making colonial-era church records available online for free to all users.

Wednesday, January 27th
6 – 7:30 p.m.


Commonwealth Salon
Central Library in Copley Square
700 Boylston Street
Boston MA 02116


January 15, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Monday, January 18th in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Tuesday.

January 15, 2016

The Congregational Library & Archives received five strong votes of confidence in 2015 in the form of grant awards from prestigious organizations. In this quiet time of year, we are reflecting on the successes of 2015, and gathering strength for the year ahead.

The New England's Hidden Histories program received two major grants in 2015, one from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the other from the Council on Library and information Resources.

These grants will help pay for NEHH processing and thousands of new digital scans, along with an online, fully searchable database of digital, transcribed documents. We are proud to partner with the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University, the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, New England Historic Genealogical Society, and the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ.

The H.W. Wilson Foundation has funded a vulnerability assessment for our collection, which will make sure our physical and online presences are secure. The assessment will help us understand the weak spots in our security, and will fund "first level" protection like stronger locks and video surveillance. Past grants from the H.W. Wilson Foundation have enabled us to upgrade and improve our technological capabilities, and we are grateful for the foundation's continued support.

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) awarded us a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant for a preservation assessment. This federal funding, provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the MBLC, provides funding for the Northeast Document Conservation Center to conduct a preservation assessment on the library's collections. This assessment will form the basis of a five-year preservation plan to ensure our collections receive the highest level of stewardship and care for their long-term preservation and access.

Finally, Mass Humanities awarded us a grant to develop a walking tour mobile application (app) that explores Boston's early religious history, with a particular focus on the decision-making practices and contentious issues that characterized life in seventeenth-century Boston, with expert scholarship to help tourists understand the connection between American democracy and the Congregational tradition.

We are proud of what we achieved in 2015. Here's to making history matter in 2016!

January 14, 2016

Our newsletter and blog often discuss the records in our collection, from documents of agricultural disputes, to notes on the LGBT struggle. But there's more to the Congregational Library & Archives than the books and papers at 14 Beacon. Our archivist Jessica Steytler often goes out into the wider Congregational world, visiting churches to help congregations care for their own records, and find glimmers of historical gold.

"We teach churches to care for their own records," says Jessica. "We always encourage churches to contact us with questions. Sometimes, I am able to go visit and work with them in person."

One such recent visit is to the First Church in Malden, where Jessica met Marilyn MacAskill, the church treasurer. "The First Church in Malden called initially to ask if we would take their records," says Jessica. "We don't take records from active churches, so we started talking about what the church could do with their material."

The First Church in Malden is a congregation in transition, moving from a church built in the early 1930s to a smaller space. "Our church building has been sold, and we're moving to a building with less storage space," explains Marilyn.

There are generations' worth of material in the Malden church, dating back to the 1870s. But with the move to a smaller building, space to store the records is becoming a problem.

"The big problem now is what we keep and what we do away with," says Marilyn.

After Jessica consulted with Marilyn on the phone about storage and management of the collection, she made the trip to the church.

"I am able to make recommendations in person and over the phone about what resources are available for disaster planning, records management planning, suppliers for archive-quality material. The thing that I try to emphasize to churches is scalable solutions. You can do a little thing, and it can make a big difference. You don't have to pick the Cadillac choice to do the right thing."

Simple choices, says Jessica, can make a difference for both digital and paper records.

"Like keeping only one version of something, naming files logically, trying to be thoughtful about organizing computer files so that it's not just a mess on your desktop. These things require time and thought, but not money."

As far as physical records, Jessica says, "Knowing what you have is the most important step." From there, she recommends starting with simple solutions. To that end, storing items in a well-organized filing cabinet is perfectly acceptable, as are clean, strong cardboard boxes. "Well-marked boxes," she adds, "so it is clear that they are historically relevant. You don't want them to accidentally be confused with Christmas decorations." From there, it's important to keep the records safe from water damage and pests. "Is it too close to the floor in a basement? Is it too close to the roof in an attic? Is it underneath pipes?"

"These are things that don’t require a lot of money, but they require time and interest."

Time and money are constraints for many churches, and some are turning to digitization, hoping for a solution. "Everybody's interested in scanning their records," says Jessica, but she is quick to warn against scanning a record and throwing the paper copy away. "The reason to scan something is because you want to make it available to the public. Pick your favorite thing, scan it, do it well, maintain it. Just don't throw it away when you’re done!"

Digital records are, in the long run, more fragile and more expensive to maintain, Jessica explains. "You will be able to read a piece of paper in 100, 200, maybe even 300 years," says Jessica. Even if the digitized files survived inevitable computer crashes, viruses, and were diligently transferred to each new computer, "You won't be able to read a Word document in twenty years," she says. "Scanning is a short-term solution, and not something to be done lightly. There are so many ways for valuable things to disappear."

Jessica recommends thoughtfully editing the records. "You cannot keep everything," she says. "Not only because it takes up space, but you can't make interesting records accessible when they are buried under unimportant things like cancelled checks," Jessica says.

Whenever possible, Jessica recommends churches work through their records with help from a professional archivist, and that's just what the church in Malden is doing. "Jessica suggested that we get an archivist come in to help in deciding what we should keep and what we should throw away," says Marilyn.

"But when it's not possible to hire an archivist, we need to empower congregations to take on the responsibilities of caring for historical records," says Jessica. "That's very much in keeping with how Congregationalism works, from the bottom up, letting the congregation make their choice on what to do with their records."

Church records are of clear importance to an active church, but they are also of significance to the wider community. "Those records are a window into a town's history," says Jessica. Marilyn agrees. "Our church is one year older than the town, so the town was actually formed in the church. The church was the governing body and the social outlet for everyone. It was where people went to meet and discuss things, as well as to have religious services."

Beyond New England history, church records tell stories that would have otherwise been forgotten, says Jessica. "They have details of people's lives, people who aren't in history books."

Sometimes, clearing out the cancelled checks is necessary to find that gold.

January 12, 2016

Now is the time to reserve your seat for this month's free lunchtime lecture.

Getting the most from our resources

Are you a genealogist with a Congregational ancestor? A historian interested in a Congregational church's history? A researcher with a burning question about Congregationalism? Have you always wanted to come to the Congregational Library & Archives for research but didn't know where to start?

Join our Digital Archivist Sari Mauro to learn more about the many resources available at the Congregational Library & Archives and how to get started on your research. Sari will cover online and on-site resources, how to begin investigating your topic, how to work with staff to get the most of what we have to offer, and what you can expect once you get here. For novice and experienced researchers alike, this presentation will get you started on the right track at the Congregational Library & Archives.

Sari first joined the CLA in 2011 as a student archives assistant, and became the full-time Digital Archivist in 2013. Sari's responsibilities include the New England's Hidden Histories program, processing and organizing collections, and speaking with churches about the stewardship for their physical and digital records. She is a graduate of Elizabethtown College and the Simmons College School of Library and Information Science where she received her MSLIS in archival management.


Thursday, January 14th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.