Mary O’Donoghue

July 2010
By Rachel Jirka

Mary O’Donoghue grew up in County Clare, Ireland.  She is an award-winning fiction and poetry writer, and is also a professor at Babson College, where she teaches fiction, rhetoric, and literature classes.

Just as Mary was finishing her graduate work in Irish Studies at the National University of Ireland, Galway, she discovered writing.  She had always been drawn to writing, but kept putting off any exploration of the art.  She enrolled in an extracurricular writing class, and, by chance, chose poetry over fiction. When writing, Mary’s first inclination is not the keyboard, but rather she works her manuscripts out by hand.  Her writing process is structured, and she likens it to carpentry—putting pieces together to build a whole.

Mary has also worked on translating the poetry of a former teacher, Louis de Paor.  Translating Ag Greadadh Bas sa Reilig Clapping in the Cemetery in collaboration with de Paor was difficult yet rewarding; the conversion of one language to another was like working out a puzzle—searching for the perfect word in English to fit the precise meaning of the Irish.  At the same time, because Mary had a close connection with the poet, it was imperative to treat the language carefully in an attempt to capture the essence of the work.

Book cover:  O'Donoghue, Mary. Among These Winters,Dublin: Dedalus, 2007.

The Athenæum has been lucky to have Mary as a member since the summer of 2006.  The Athenæum has served as a place to work, and Mary insisted that some of her best work has been done on the tables of the second and fifth floors.  Each floor offers a distinct work atmosphere.  While the hum of the second floor doesn’t distract her from her work, the fifth floor can be quieter in the evenings.

It was difficult for Mary to choose only a few of her influences, but she managed to put together a sizable list: David Ferry, Mavis Gallant, William Trevor, Anton Chekov, Tim Winton, Katherine Mansfield, Rachel Cusk, David Malouf, Robin Robertson, and Tomas Tranströmer.  The Athenæum has examples of many of these authors in its holdings.

Mary’s first two collections of poetry, Tulle (published by Salmon Poetry) and Among These Winters (published by Dedalus Press), were published in 2001 and 2007, respectively.  Mary recently completed her first novel, Before the House Burns, which has just been published in Ireland with Lilliput Press.  There are plans to launch the novel in America.  Completing the first draft was the fastest she had ever worked, she said.  Mary began on July 14, 2008, and ended on November 9th of that year.  What began as a short story developed into a novella. The novella turned eventually into a novel when Mary discovered a larger structure within the world she was creating. Since the launch of her novel, Mary has been returning to poetry for the past few weeks, exploring stricter forms. 

Read the chapter “L. casei Immunitas” from the novel, Before The House Burns, as it was frist published in AGNI 70 (Fall 2009).

Selected Works:

Among These Winters
Dublin: Dedalus.
PR6115.D66 A84 2007

Ag Greadadh Bas Sa Reilig:  Clapping In The Cemetery
By Louis de Paor; translations from the Irish by the author, with Biddy Jenkinson, Mary O’Donoghue and Kevin Anderson.
Indreabhán, Conamara: Cló Iar-Chonnachta.
PB1399.D39 A6 2005

Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare, Ireland: Salmon Publishing.
PR6115.D66 T85 2001


Charles Ammi Cutter

June 2010

By Noah Sheola

Charles Ammi Cutter (1837-1903) was Librarian of the Boston Athenæum from 1868 until 1892.  His lifelong objective was the development of a classification system comprehensive of all human knowledge yet serviceable to the general user.  Though he died before completing the final schedules of his Cutter Expansive Classification, his ideas nevertheless formed the theoretical basis for the Library of Congress Classification system.  Though not a household name like his contemporary and sometime rival Melvil Dewey, Charles Cutter’s influence on the organization of modern libraries is virtually unsurpassed.  He not only laid the groundwork for the Library of Congress Classification but also popularized the view that library catalogs ought to cross-reference subjects with authors’ names and titles, a practice almost taken for granted today. 

The son of a Boston fish-oil merchant, Cutter embraced intellectual pursuits at an early age, entering Harvard College at fourteen and graduating third in his class. He attended Harvard Divinity School with the aim of becoming a Unitarian minister. During this time Cutter worked in the Divinity School library, eventually reorganizing the catalog to suit the organizational principles he was already formulating. In 1860 he joined the staff of the Harvard College library.  In 1868 Cutter became Librarian of the Boston Athenæum.

Reacting to perceived faults of his predecessors’ work, Cutter at once undertook a wholesale revision of the Athenæum’s catalog.  Published 1874-1882, the revised catalog included an open letter to the trustees which showcases Cutter’s acerbic prose:  

The making of it [the old catalog], I have been told, was entrusted to several young men.  They were intelligent and industrious; one of them, at least, has since made his mark in the world; but they had never had any instruction cataloguing, probably had never been trained even in accuracy of copying.  Sometimes they took the title from the back of the book, sometimes from the title-page, sometimes from the half-title, and sometimes, apparently, from their own imaginations.  They omitted freely, of course, and they altered the order of words for the purpose of omitting, and of the words which they retained they abbreviated the greater part to the verge of unintelligibility. . . The result, if it had been printed, would have been one of the most remarkable catalogues ever issued.  Of course, working so rapidly, these writers got over a great deal of ground; the worse they worked, the more they did, leaving a larger crop of errors for others to uproot, and the nearer the catalogue seemed to completion the farther off it really was.

Boston Athenaeum Second Floor 1880

When finally completed, the elegance and utility of the revised catalog established Cutter as a rising star in his profession.  Impressed by his work, the U.S. Commissioner of Education asked Cutter to write an overview of his methodology for the upcoming Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.  The result was Cutter’s Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalog (1876).  Cutter’s Rules went through four editions, serving as the go-to authority on the subject well into the twentieth century.  While attending the 1876 Exposition Charles Cutter and 102 other men and women signed a register establishing the American Library Association (ALA).  Cutter would contribute regularly to Library Journal, the official publication of the ALA, and serve as president from 1888 to 1889.  He also contributed literary reviews and bibliographical essays to the Nation, the New York Evening Post, and the North American Review throughout his career.

At the 1883 meeting of the ALA Cutter presented a paper entitled “The Buffalo Public Library in 1983.”  The sketch elucidates a utopian future for American libraries and famously anticipates the technological advances of the coming century, including inter-library loan, audio books, regional depositories, remote reference services and automated retrieval.   The full text of this prescient and humorous essay can be read here.

Cutter left the Athenæum in 1892.  After a brief tour of Europe, he was appointed Librarian of the Forbes Library in Northampton, where he would build a collection of 90,000 volumes almost from scratch, arranging the books according to his own Expansive Classification.  Cutter continued to refine the Expansive Classification system but died before completing its final schedules.  Today the Forbes Library and the Boston Athenæum both retain a version of it.  Charles Ammi Cutter died of pneumonia on September 6, 1903 and was survived by his wife Sarah Fayerweather Appleton and their two sons. 

Selected Works:

Catalogue of the library of the Boston Athenæum 1807-1871
Boston: Boston Athenaeum, 1874-82
LC:  + Z881 .B74

     A landmark achievement in library science and considered the best of its kind for decades.

Charles Ammi Cutter, library systematizer
Edited by Francis L. Miksa
Littleton, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1977
LC:  Z674 .C87 1977

     Not only an excellent biographical reference but an anthology of Cutter’s most significant writings.

Rules for a dictionary catalogue.
Washington, Govt. Print. Off., 1889
Cutter:  XJK .C98 .2

     Cutter’s treatise signaled how libraries would be cataloged in the twentieth century.
     The Boston Athenæum has the earlier editions as well. 


Cutter, C.A. (1874). Catalogue of the library of the Boston Athenæum 1807-1871. Boston: Boston Athenæum.

Cutter, C.A. (1883). The Buffalo public library in 1983. Papers and proceedings of the sixth general meeting of the American Library Association, held at Buffalo, August 14 to 17, 1883.

Cutter, C. A. (1904). Rules for a dictionary catalog. U.S. Bureau of Education: Special Report on Public Libraries–Part II. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Cutter, W.P. (1931). Charles Ammi Cutter.  Chicago:  American Library Association.

Miksa, F.L. (1977). Charles Ammi Cutter library systematizer. Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.

Stromgren, P. (2007). Charles Ammi Cutter:Library systematizer extraordinaire.


Jack Gantos

May 2010

By Mary Warnement

Jack Gantos is a regular patron and supporter of the Boston Athenæum. He considered joining when a young man, but his wages as a short order cook and valet parker (among other jobs) did not allow for extras, even though he thought our membership fees “fairly priced.” He found many congenial reading spaces in Boston and worked for many years in Bates Hall at the Boston Public Library but eventually had to look for a new haven in the face of rampant cell phone use. “I could tolerate the homeless and the mad, but the rude were just too much…So I went back up to the Athenæum and joined and have been delighted to find such a nourishing community.”

“When I stand on the outdoor balcony of the 5th floor and turn toward Park Street I can look into the window of Walter Lorraine’s office where he worked at Houghton Mifflin Publishers at #2 Park Street. In that office is where Walter agreed to publish my first book in 1975. I haven’t traveled very far but it is now 40 books later.”

The Boston Athenæum at 10 ½ Beacon Street is not far from Houghton Mifflin’s former home at 2 Park Street; however, the distance from his first book to his most recent can seem to stretch as far as the imagination, and Jack’s stretch seems infinite. The ability to write what people would want to read “from cradle to grave” is a rare one, but Jack Gantos possesses it. When you can barely turn the pages, you can laugh at the antics of Rotten Ralph, his feline creation. Once in school, you have the sympathetic company of Jack Henry and Joey Pigza. As you approach adulthood and grope to find your way, you can turn to Jack’s memoir of his own young adult self, Hole in My Life. Through it all, you will have the pleasure of enjoying his wit and extraordinary ability with words.

All of Jack’s quotations are from a brief memoir written as a response to our archivist’s call for members’ memories. He summed up his sense of belonging to this institution:

“Of course people go to a library to read books, but when you go there day after day you begin to read the other people as if they were books, too. And the reverse is just as true. But to be ‘read’ by such good readers results in the comfort of being well known.”

All members are welcome to submit memories on the Archive web page.

If you want to learn more about Jack’s biography and bibliography, you can check out his beautifully designed website. Then perhaps you can check out some of his books and get to know him really well.


Walter Muir Whitehill

March/April 2010

By Mary Warnement

Walter Muir Whitehill (1905-1978) was Director and Librarian of the Boston Athenæum from 1946 until his retirement in 1973. He received his bachelors and masters degrees from Harvard and finished his PhD at the University of London in 1934 for his thesis on the architecture of medieval Spain, not published until 1941. In 1936, he became the assistant director of the Peabody Museum in Salem which he left in order to serve in the navy during World War II. After the war, he came to the Boston Athenæum where he found his home, a base from which he participated in, or, more accurately, led nearly every New England cultural institution or society, and became the epitome of a prolific author. David McCord’s unorthodox description of him presents a more interesting picture than conventional biography would and aptly introduces this necessarily abbreviated list of his many publications:

Any friend of Walter Whitehill is aware of certain things which he likes, dislikes, or abominates. He has obliged me—at my request—with a small but select list of these opposites. He likes beauty and clarity of language, brevity and punctuality; dislikes jargon and long-winded meetings. He likes the prose style of Samuel Eliot Morison and The Book of Common Prayer; dislikes the writing of educationists and liturgical experiment. He favors classical scholars, Egyptologists, medievalists; dislikes all “social scientists.” He likes Gibbon, saints, and nearly all dogs, dislikes C.P. Snow, reformers, nearly all “do-gooders.” He likes the view of mountains, but not climbing them; the streets of London and Copenhagen, but not a lake bordered by summer cottages. He likes music at home, Gregorian music, Mozart, Haydn & Co.; dislikes the Boston Symphony programs, unaccompanied polyphonic music, rock—which he generously calls rock music. He likes Chinese calligraphy, a mastery of technique, the architecture of A. Palladio, the sculpture of Bernini; dislikes paint slobbered on canvas, “self-expression,” the architecture of Le Corbusier, the sculpture of David Smith. He likes good book design and printing, dislikes (as I violently do) eccentric margins and unjustified lines. He likes staying at home; dislikes going to the opera or theatre. He likes books; dislikes television; likes clubs, a small dinner, eating at a table; dislikes most restaurants, cocktail parties, picnics and buffets; likes Naval officers; dislikes real estate promoters.

A bibliography speaks for itself; but the few scattered samples taken chronologically which follows will give the reader at least a notion of the spread of Walter Whitehill’s interests—interests by no means limited even to a dozen disciplines. [David McCord, “Walter Muir Whitehill,” Bulletin of Bibliography vol. 30, no 3 (1973): 114.] 

Selected Bibliography:
Classification followed by call number

Spanish Romanesque Architecture of the Eleventh Century
London: Oxford University Press, 1941
Cutter: UDHX .W587 .s

The East India Marine Society and the Peabody Museum of Salem; a sesquicentennial history
Salem, Mass: Peabody Museum, 1941
Cutter: U65Sa +P31 +zw

A Boston Athenaeum Miscellany: Catalogue of an Exhibition in Honor of the Visit of the Grolier Club on February 11, 1950
Boston, 1950
LC: + Z881 .B738

Augustus Peabody Loring, Jr., 1885-1951
Salem, Mass: Peabody Museum, c1952
Cutter: 65 .L8964 .w

In collaboration with Ernest Joseph King. Fleet Admiral King, a Naval Record
New York, W. W. Norton, 1952
Cutter: 65 .K5817

Portraits of Women 1700-1825.
Boston Massachusetts Historical Society, 1954
LC: N7634 .M3

Boston Public Library: A Centennial History Cambridge
Harvard University Press, 1956
LC: Z733.B752 W5

Boston: A Topographical History
Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1959
LC: F73.3 .W57 1959
(A second edition was published in 1963 and 1968, and a third edition appeared in 2000.)

Captain Joseph Peabody; East India merchant of Salem (1757-1844)
Salem, Mass: Peabody Museum, 1962
Cutter: 65 +P3125 +e

Boston in the age of John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966
LC: F73.52 .W5

Dumbarton Oaks; the history of a Georgetown house and garden, 1800-1966
Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967
Cutte: UGS6RG .D893 .w

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: A Centennial History
Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press, 1970
LC: N520 .W5

Boston Statues
Barre, Mass: Barre Publishers, 1970
LC: + F73.64.A1 W45

Massachusetts: A Pictorial History
New York: Scribner, c1976
Cutter: 964 +W587 +2

Palladio in America
Milan: Electa, c1976
Cutter: UF .P17 .pa

Boston Artists and Craftsmen at the Opening of the Twentieth Century
Baltimore: New England Quarterly, 1977
Cutter: 96 .7N42 (v.50)