Library on a Hill – VIM magazine article

First page of the article.

Proprietor Henry Sinclair Sherrill published an article on the Boston Athenaeum in VIM magazine. It is an appreciation and history and is well worth reading. We include the opening paragraph here, yet we encourage you to read the full article.

“I hold the Boston Athenaeum Library close to my heart and in the highest esteem. From the moment I first entered its red and brass front door in 1970, passing beneath the high-ceilinged entryway flanked by massive statues, I felt a sense of excitement and assurance. Over the past years, it has been such a welcoming privilege to read and study inside a museum filled with books, knowing that each book can lead to anything and everything: knowledge, imagination, self-education, greater potential, escape, and delight. A library fills me with a sense of wonder.”

Read the full article. It starts on page 82.


Jenn Pellecchia’s journey from discovery to community

Jenn standing next to window that looks out on the Granary Burial ground.

Excerpts from an interview with Jenn Pellecchia, member since 2010

What drew you to become a member of the BA?

Jenn: I found out about it through Wikipedia.  I think I was looking at the page for John Adams or John Quincy Adams, that’s how I found out they were both members. I thought, there’s no way this still exists, but there was a link to the website, and I saw that it was a member library that anyone could join. I showed it to my husband and was like, we have to do this. 

What’s your favorite spot in the building?

Jenn: I love to browse the new books. It’s so nice to not have to be in a huge queue and reserve everything, just to be able to browse, like a bookstore, but not have to pay for anything. And when I actually need to get some work done I like to go to the basement, especially in the summer. It’s really nice and cool, and if I want to take a break, I can check out the art books. And the views are great down there. It’s a nice, quiet place.

What are you working on at the BA currently? What do you bring with you to work on? Do you work, or do more reading?

Jenn: I like to do both, work and read. This is a great place to try to get stuff done. I work from home, and my discipline there kind of varies, but I’m a bookbinder and a book conservator, so this is a great place just to be. 

How has the BA helped support your interests? Is there anything you’ve discovered here that you’d want to share? 

Jenn: I discovered book conservation as a career! Through a lot of the exhibitions I’ve learned about other bookbinders and book artists. It’s great that Special Collections is buying from current artists and has an interest in contemporary book artists and bookbinders. I’m discovering people all the time, and even older works from people I actually know or have heard of. 

And also it’s fun to have people you can talk about things with. You know, it’s great to just ask John [Buchtel, Athenaeum Director of Special Collections], “Are you shopping, what are you excited about, what have you acquired?” and then being able to make an appointment and go look at stuff. I’ve been able to do a lot of learning that way. 

What’s your favorite perk of being a member at the Athenaeum?

Jenn: I love the events. It’s nice that there’s such a range of people that the BA attracts, different ages, different careers, coming from different areas of the country and sometimes the world. There’s been so many fascinating people working here too. You can have a good conversation anytime you come to the building. 

I’ve never been to something that I thought wasn’t interesting. There’s always a level of quality, and there’s always something to learn, and the speakers do such a great job that any time you end up here for an event, you’re going to come away with something. It’s like, “I’m free, is there something happening?” And there usually is. I think being in a room full of people who are learning things together, you can’t really top it. 

If any, what fictional character or historical figure would you expect to find in the Athenaeum? 

Jenn: I know that Louisa May Alcott was a member, so I’d like to think of Jo March, or really anybody in the March family, having access to this. Not just Jo, but all of the sisters. Music for Beth, and art for Amy, and maybe some social events for Meg. It’s really easy to picture them fitting in here. I always like that this is a family place, too, so it makes me happy to think about the March family being able to visit as a group.  

Learn more about membership.


Boston Athenaeum receives a Mass Cultural Council grant for building expansion

Person viewing photograph contact sheets in the Athenaeum's new exhibition gallery.

The Cultural Facilities Fund, run jointly by the Mass Cultural Council and MassDevelopment, awarded the Boston Athenaeum a $145,000 grant to support its recent renovation and expansion. The grant is among 28 totaling $3.14 million for cultural facilities and projects throughout Massachusetts.

The Athenaeum’s renovation and expansion preserved the beauty of its historic building while providing more space for programs and events, varied art and historical exhibitions, reading and research, and more opportunities for connection. The project was completed in the Fall of 2022.

“The expansion is helping us create a more welcoming space that serves more people than ever,” said Leah Rosovsky, Stanford Calderwood Director. “It helps us preserve our historic structure and adapt to the needs of the twenty-first century. This kind of public funding from the state and the Governor’s office is crucial to the success of cultural institutions all over Massachusetts.”

The grants are from MassDevelopment and Mass Cultural Council, two state agencies jointly administering the Cultural Facilities Fund (CFF, which invests in the acquisition, design, repair, renovation, expansion, and construction of nonprofit and municipal cultural facilities.

View the full list of recipients.


Athenaeum hosts Community Day

Event attendees view a rare book on display.

The Boston Athenaeum invites the Boston community to its Community Day open
house on Saturday, September 30, welcoming all residents, visitors, families, and friends across
the city to explore the landmark building’s five galleried floors and enjoy performances, art
activities, and displays of special collections from 10 am to 4 pm. The event is free and open to

This open house event at the renowned library, museum, and cultural center will include
activities for guests spread throughout the building, including a bookmaking workshop by book
artist and printmaker Annie Silverman; a demonstration by the Athenaeum’s conservation team
on the creation of paste-paper, which is used in both book arts and conservation; special
collections show and tell by its curators; musical performances by local artists Joe Sabourin,
Grooversity, and Anibal Cruz; a treasure hunt and hawk-sighting tour; and much more.

“We are a member-supported organization that anyone can join,” said Leah Rosovsky, the
Athenaeum’s Director. “We invite everyone to explore and experience the books, exhibits and
programming that make the Athenaeum such a unique place.”

There will be the chance to meet renowned Roxbury artist, book illustrator, and educator Ekua Holmes, known for her mixed-media collage art investigating family histories, childhood, and the power of self-determination. The Children’s Library’s visual centerpiece is a vibrant streetscape mural by Holmes and the original collages created for the mural will also be on display.

Visitors will also see the recent expansion and renovation enhanced the classic beauty of the
building but also added space for more programs and events, more varied art, more places for
reading and research, and more opportunities for connection.


What’s the most read serial at the Boston Athenaeum? 

What’s the Most Read Serial at the Boston Athenæum? The Answer May Surprise You.

Is it the New Yorker, that weekly badge of validation for the intelligentsia or Country Life, the glossy pages of which propagate the morbund mythology of the British landed gentry? Perhaps Cook’s Illustrated tops the list with its excruciatingly detailed backstory of every recipe for the Type-A culinary set. 

Before we reveal our findings, we’d like to explain the “why” and “how” of our methodology. The “why” originated with a question that had been plaguing us for some time: namely, do we have too many serial subscriptions? (NB: Library Land broadly defines serials (or periodicals, journals, magazines, etc.) as publications, containing a variety of short works, usually issued at regular intervals, without prior decision as to when the final issue will appear.)  An informal survey of our peer institutions confirmed our suspicions. Our bloated list of subscriptions dwarfed those of some of our counterparts by as many as 200 titles. 

While the answer to our question was a resounding yes, another factor beyond a lengthy subscription list lurked behind the need for reassessment. The Athenæum, like almost every library, faces a daunting space crunch. This is especially apparent every time boxes of bound serials returned from the bindery, the contents of which consume shelf space by the foot. But “how” to address these problems of size and space? We looked to online aggregators such as JSTOR and Project Muse to help solve the space crunch. If back issues of a serial were available online and reasonably current, we might cease to bind it. Through this exercise, we whittled down the titles that we bound. It bears noting that the majority of titles we chose not to bind skewed towards text-heavy publications, whereas those with significant illustrative matter, such as art journals, we continue to bind. 

Cutting down the number of serial subscriptions proved more difficult. How were we to gauge what titles were read and what were ignored? A scan of the professional literature offered no solutions. Soliciting advice from other libraries yielded suggestions that were impractical (have an idle staffer (do they exist?) stalk the serials section for several days, noting which titles were read) or faulty (ask members to place the read serial on a designated table to form a usage calculation, a method that could not account for another member picking up the serial from the special table to peruse the publication).  After some deliberation, Technical and Reader Services came up with the now familiar sheets Athenæum members see stapled to the front of our serials. These little tally sheets ask members to mark a column with an “X” if they read a serial. We have been tabulating data from these sheets for almost four years, affording us the opportunity to make informed decisions regarding subscription renewals and cancellations. (Although, we hasten to add, our decisions are not based exclusively on popularity. In addition to providing recreational reading for our members, our serials also serve as secondary research material for our Special Collections. Therefore, we continue to subscribe to serial publications dedicated to literature, book arts, printing, publishing, and art history, despite a lack of broad readership among our members.)

Our top-ten list of the most read serials at the Boston Athenæum  emerged as an unintentional byproduct of our record-keeping. Which publication tops that list? Quelle surprise! It’s Paris Match! It’s common knowledge that the Athenæum counts a fair number of Anglophiles among its membership, but apparently, the allure of sunbathing royals on the Riviera and socialite intrigue in the “City of Light” brings out the Francophile in many of us. See the entire list below (Excludes daily newspapers).

  1. Paris Match
  2. New Yorker
  3. Country Life
  4. Economist
  5. Times Literary Supplement
  6. Spectator
  7. Cook’s Illustrated
  8. Science
  9. London Review of Books
  10. Boston Business Journal

Most Circulated Books 2022

What were you reading last year? What books got checked out again and again? We took a look at our records and tallied the books that were most often checked out in 2022. When we went to photograph the stack, we found that four were checked out, proving the popularity lingers into 2023. Here’s the list of the top 10 most popular books from last year:

Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles


Foster by Claire Keegan


Give Unto Others by Donna Leon


The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray


Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead


Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout


Adventures of Tintin by Herge


The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley


Crying in H Mart: A Memoir by Michelle Zauner


A Dream Life by Claire Messud