Library defends removal of books

The journals of John Winthrop are among the works drawing concern.
International Portrait Gallery
The journals of John Winthrop are among the works drawing concern.

A Watertown library trustee Tuesday night defended her board’s June decision to move some historical books out of the local library’s history room to clear shelf space, despite the uproar it has caused among local genealogy and historical experts.

“There just isn’t enough room,” trustee Raya Stern said in a Town Hall hallway Tuesday. “This is stuff no one looks at. Not everything in there is valuable to Watertown.”

The volumes are not directly related to Watertown’s history. However, the elected board’s decision has prompted a letter and e-mail campaign by local historians, and brought nearly a dozen protesters to Tuesday’s Town Council meeting.


Many said that even volumes not directly related to Watertown could be monumental to historians and genealogists using the Watertown Free Public Library’s history room. They pointed to the valuable nature of many of the volumes, including the journals of John Winthrop, one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

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“This is some of the most important material historically in the Commonwealth,” said David L. Smith, president of the Civil War Round Table of Greater Boston. “To get rid of it is outrageous and irresponsible.”

The books are being cleared to make space for records from the cleanup of the Army’s Watertown Arsenal property as well as newly acquired historical volumes, Stern said.

“This is a federal mandate that was dumped on us,” Stern said of the Army records. “There are no tucked away places in the library to put the Arsenal papers. All our rooms and shelves are being used.”

The non-Watertown materials would either be moved to general shelves in the library, offered to various community libraries and historical societies, digitized for online use, or put in the local circulation network, Stern said.


“We’re not throwing anything away,” she said. “We’re just finding other places for them.”

Although the library has offered any of the titles to the Watertown Historical Society, board member Joyce Kelly said the organization does not have room to house the books.

“We believe the library can house both the Arsenal material and the research collection,” she said, noting that the Arsenal cleanup documents could likely be digitized faster and easier than any of the research volumes.

In a letter to the Globe, Marilynne K. Roach, president of the historical society, said she believes that there is space in the library’s history room for the volumes, and that the cleanup documents could be stored somewhere else.

“We still believe that the Arsenal paperwork may be properly stored AND that the history collection be preserved — a win-win solution,” Roach wrote.


Supporters of the historical volumes also worried that since the decision had been made at the library trustees’ June 4 meeting, valuable titles could begin disappearing from the history room at any time.

‘This is some of the most important material historically in the Common-wealth.”

“It took 150 years to put this collection together, and in another month or so it could all be gone,” said Bob Erickson, a former veterans agent for Watertown.

But Stern said the decision, while discussed in detail last month, has been talked about since last fall. “This policy has been in the works since October,” she said, adding that she thinks the board members will probably uphold their decision. “They can come to our meetings. Some got all excited and now they’re overreacting.”

Stern said the library is still deciding what books to move out of the history room, and said the process is continuous and has no firm deadline. “We’re working on this constantly,” she said.

The next Board of Library Trustees meeting is scheduled for Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. in the library.

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com.