Boston Public Library – HOMAGO, programming and so much more!


Boston Public Library was the first publicly funded municipal library in America established in 1848. The Central Library has been on the current site in Copley Square since1895. The older historic building was designed by Charles McKim, originally it was known as the “palace for the people”. In 1972 the library expanded with an additional building adjoining the McKim building designed by Philip Johnson, The two buildings take up one block and cover a million square feet. The Johnson Building is currently undergoing an $80 million regeneration and renovation project funded by the city. The second floor has been completed and the rest of the building is due to re-open in 2016.

The Central Library is many things, it is a historic building – a museum within a library offering art and architecture tours; an exhibition centre; a research library; a special collections library with holdings of 23 million items (second only in size to The Library of Congress); a digital repository for the State of Massachusetts; a business centre; a map centre and a public services library with a wide programme of events, including lectures, author talks, weekly music concerts, technology training, children’s story times and crafts as well as lending and online services. Importantly BPL are proud to offer every service and event for free. The motto Free To All is carved in stone above the entrance of the library.



I started the day off by meeting with Michael Colford, Director of Library Services and Jen Inglis, Chief of Public Services. We discussed funding streams, income generation, state wide collaborative services, staffing, volunteers, partnerships, branch libraries and locations. Many of these I will cover in my final report but here I would like to share some highlights of the day.


imageOver the past couple of years there has been a significant shift in focus for the branch libraries towards community outreach. While I didn’t actually see the bibliocycle it is worth mentioning as it is an extremely successful and popular outreach development.

The bike has been specially developed with a fold out cart. Carrying between 50-100 books, librarians and assistants, working in pairs, visit farmers’ markets, fairs, and community events. They can join people to the library, promote library services and lend books.

Working with school libraries

BPL provides cataloguing services for its own libraries and all the public schools in Boston. Children at public schools are issued with a BPL library card by their school librarian. The joint catalogue between BPL and the schools enables the students to request items from other school libraries or a public library, this will then be delivered to their school or made available to collect at a local library.

Johnson Building renovation

Michael took me on a tour of the newly opened  2nd floor space in the Johnson building, which incorporates the Children’s Library, Teen Central and Adult Services (non-fiction).

Children’s Library




This is a space for the very young up to pre-teens (tweens), each age group has it’s own area. The space includes a fabulous sensory wall for babies and toddlers, a story time area by the large window and a computer and seating area for the tweens.  There is an additional learning room which can be used for crafts and author events. The library is large, cheerful and welcoming. The focus is on children and parents being able to use the space in different ways rather than the book stock which has been reduced    by approximately 50% to make way for the new design.

Teen Central



Teen Central has a far more urban industrial feel. Teens were consulted on what they would like in their space, so it has become a HOMAGO space with booths to sit and hang out in, a games and films room, laptops and a digital media lab. Book shelves are on wheels so they can be moved out to open the space up for events. Teen Librarian Jessica Snow says that the place is buzzing after school with 60+ teenagers.

Within the digital media lab Youth Technology Librarian Catherine Halpin supports teens and organises workshops on music making, 3D modelling, video editing, programming, photoshop and graphic design. Workshops are often provided by community partners. Technology Librarians need to know enough to get people started but don’t need to be experts. Many of the teens already have skills so peer to peer learning is being encouraged and the hope is that teens will also be able to teach the adults when the new Business Innovation Centre opens in 2016. Jessica has developed a paid programme for Teen Tech Mentors who will work 6-8 hours a week during term time supporting peers with technology.

The pictures below show Jessica’s ideas flip chart for teens to fill in on new activities they would like – such a simple effective idea – and Technology Librarian Catherine Halpin with Michael Colford in the media suite.


Adult Services

The main adult non-fiction area leads on from Teen Central. This is also an area where people can study, use the WiFi  or sit and read. The window bar seating area is particularly popular with patrons. Simple ideas such as wayfinding boards work well for orientation.


All three areas have seen a dramatic increase in footfall and usage since the 2nd floor opened in February this year,

Community Learning Centre

When the other floors  of the building re-open in 2016 there will be a Community Learning Centre. Gianna Gifford, Manager of Reference and Instruction Services produces a programme of workshops for patrons with English as a second language (ESL). These include English classes, citizenship classes and conversation circles.

Conversation circles provide an opportunity for ESL patrons to practice speaking English in small informal groups. These sessions take place at the Central Library and a number of the branch libraries. It is one of the fastest growing programmes and also one of the few areas supported by volunteers at BPL.

Gianna also oversees a range of research, technology and career classes and drop in help sessions.

Kirstein Business Library and Innovation Centre

The Innovation Centre will be a major new development. It will be a place where start up businesses and entrepreneurs can research, network and use meeting spaces. It will house a makerspace where businesses can create their own logos or start Etsy craft businesses from the library. It will provide MOOC sessions where people can take online courses together offering peer to peer support. The Centre will provide a very flexible space where a range of  demonstrations, workshops and support can take place. Small businesses will be able to use the facilities for free but it is hoped that in return there will be the opportunity for skills sharing and entrepreneurs may be asked to facilitate workshops to share their knowledge and skills with others.

Retail Outlet

The main floor of the Johnson Building will include partnering with a retail outlet, this will provide some income generation. The process is already underway with a request for proposals issued. The prerequisite is that the type of retail outlet has to be compatible with a public library and library services.

Events Management

Emily Tokarczyk manages a small events team for the BPL, various spaces within the Central Library can be hired for weddings, conferences and other events out of opening hours and it makes a spectacular venue. The team will make all of the arrangements and catering is provided by the library café and restaurant.



Tour of the McKim Building

At the end of the day Meghan Weeks took me on a tour of the historic McKim Building. Meghan has a museum and architecture background and her knowledge was incredible. The BPL provides a free daily Art and Architecture tour of the McKim Building which over 10,000 people a year take. I was lucky enough to have a one to one tour and the frescos, statues and architecture are really quite magnificent.image




My day at Boston Public Library was truly inspiring. Thank you so much to Michael and his team for putting aside so much of their time and sharing information and best practice so willingly. I’d love to return to Boston one day to see the Johnson Building in it’s finished state.

Next stop Hartford!