or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 2/25

   March 3rd, 2007 Brian Herzog

Minute Man/Farmer StatueYou know it's going to be an involved question when the phone rings and the first thing the patron says is, "have you got a few minutes?"

In this case, the caller was from a different town (Concord, MA, as in Lexington and Concord, Paul Revere, the shot heard 'round the world, etc.). He said he receives a daily email called Mass Moments, which gives an interesting "on this day in Massachusetts history" event.

The Mass Moment for 3/1/2007 concerned how the town of Bedford responded to the Boston Pamphlet, which, published in 1772, urged the towns of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to organize an inter-town communication system to aid in the growing resistance against the British Parliament.

This got the patron curious how his town, Concord, and other towns at the time responded. Chelmsford was one of those original towns, so he called me. What he was looking for was the town archive dating to 1773, and he wanted to know if he could go through it.

First of all, being from Ohio, I'm not really used to thinking of things beyond the 19th century in terms of tangible history. So, him thinking that 18th century documents would be lying around somewhere kind of made me laugh. Not to mention that, in my experience, a public library is not at all a safe place for such things.

Anyway, aside from a few books, we don't have much my in my library that dates back past the 1970s. So I called the Town Clerk's office, thinking that they should know where old town records are stored.

The first woman I spoke with didn't know. But she did say that this patron had already called her, and she told him the same thing. But, since I was calling from the library, she transferred me to her supervisor.

The supervisor was more knowledgeable, and told me that there is an archive in Town Hall. She said they have most of the town records back to when the town was incorporated in 1655, but that nothing was indexed or searchable. She said she'd have to manually go through the Town Meeting records from that period to find the information, and that when she did, she would call the patron.

I thought this was an interesting question, partly just because of the fact that the Town has records dating back that far. Also, though, I think it's funny that the Clerk's office treated me better than they did the man from Concord when he called on his own. They don't know who I am over there, I just said I was from the library. I wonder if this guy had said he was calling from the library that they would have been a little more accommodating. And I wonder if my library connection will earn me special treatment the next time I get a speeding ticket.

boston pamphlet, concord, libraries, library, mass moments, reference question, town archive, town records

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