May 20, 2022

Fine Art: Boston Public Library Releases Findings in Year-Long Review of the BPL Print Collection

From the Boston Public Library:

Today, the Boston Public Library announced the results of the Print Department Report, a BPL commissioned year-long external review of the BPL Print Collection. Launched in June 2014 and conducted by Simmons College Professor Dr. Martha Mahard, the four-volume report evaluates inventory control and the current physical arrangement of the collection’s 320,000 items, and makes recommendations on how to improve intellectual control and organization of the Print Department assets moving forward.

The report covers the need for improved record keeping, primarily from artwork acquired in the latter half of the last century, when new acquisitions outpaced proper documentation and organization.

Upon completion of the project in June 2015, BPL commissioned Dr. Mahard to conduct an item-by-item inventory of the Print Department, which includes 200,000 prints and 120,000 chromolithographs. Launched on June 8, the inventory will inform the next phase of Print Collection improvements.

“The Print and Special Collections play an essential role in the library fulfilling its mission as a center of knowledge,” said Michael Colford, BPL Director of Library Services. “This Print Department Report gives BPL a detailed look into how the library can be the best steward of these 320,000 works going forward. BPL is already taking steps to act on these recommendations, and will continue to use the report as the blueprint for additional improvements in the Print Department.”

The Print Department Report includes an analysis of the secure area where the Print Collection is housed, which consists of the Print Stacks, measuring 8,424 square feet, and the secure Cabinet Room, measuring 1600 square feet. Among the findings, the report recommends a review of staffing levels and responsibilities, and improvements to collection documentation, online discovery, physical storage, and print-viewing access.

BPL leadership selected Dr. Martha Mahard, a Professor at Simmons School of Library and Information Science, for the project due to her more than 3 decades of professional experience with the Harvard University Libraries.

The item-by-item inventory underway now is expected to be completed within nine months, and will provide the library with a listing of the Print Department’s 320,000 items. Simmons College interns are assisting with this process, and public service in the Print Department has been suspended to complete the inventory.

The inventory will inform the next phase of storage, preservation, space allocation, and online catalog access for the print collection. The overarching goal of the BPL commissioned report and the inventory is the preservation and public access to this distinctive collection.

Direct to Full Text Report

Direct to Boston Public Library Print Collection Website
Includes links to online materials.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.