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Boston Public Library receives $ 2.1 million in private donations to revitalize founding research collection

Current photo of a portion the Founding Research Collection.
Current photo of a portion the Founding Research Collection.Boston Public Library

The Boston Public Library has received $2.1 million in private funding to begin restoring its founding research collection, library officials said Wednesday.

The library received two donations — one from an anonymous donor and the second from the Associates of the Boston Public Library, library officials said in a statement.

The money will be used to “revitalize” the research collection, which contains some of the library’s first volumes. The collection contains more than 500,000 volumes, including thousands that date from before 1820.

The funding will be used to restore 400,000 volumes in the collection.

The collection also contains books, pamphlets, journals, maps, atlases, and illustrated portfolios, among other items. Many of the items are rare or first editions, which makes them “invaluable to researchers and scholars worldwide,” library officials said.

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“Ranging from illustrated books on natural history to rare volumes on linguistics, religion, sociology, and economics, [the library’s] Founding Research Collection’s value is immeasurable, both intrinsically and as a resource for patrons,” said Laura Irmscher, the library’s chief of collections.

The restoration process includes a “comprehensive cleaning program” to remove dirt and debris collected over time. That will allow the collection to be safely handled, cataloged, and stored. The cataloging process will include the digitization of many volumes, making them more accessible to the public.

The preservation project will begin later this year, with the first phase expected to be completed in 2023.

“We look forward to returning this 16th–20th century collection to our 21st-century patrons, who will once again be able to easily explore and learn from these historic treasures,” said Paula Sakey, executive director of the Boston Public Library Fund.

Boston Public Library, Bates Hall, 55 Boylston Street., ca. 1858
Boston Public Library, Bates Hall, 55 Boylston Street., ca. 1858Boston Public Library

Charlie McKenna can be reached at charlie.mckenna@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @charliemckenna9.