Since the Globe North published Pierre A. Walker's letter about policy changes at the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum ("Phillips Library cutbacks will hurt researchers," April 8), concern within the history, library, and archives communities locally and nationwide has deepened, not waned.
While we celebrate the commitment to excellence in program and staff on the "art museum side" of the new Peabody Essex Museum, we are disappointed by their lack of interest in the "history" side of their mission. We are saddened, and even fearful, of ongoing efforts to undermine their unique, world-class research library and the Essex County historical collections it contains.
Many of us who are members of the museum and users of the library believe the museum has the capacity to achieve both: Excellence in every area, and a renewed commitment to preserving and making accessible the library's collections.
In that spirit, a group of 23 members sent [this] petition to the trustees and overseers of the museum.
Bonnie Hurd SmithSalem
A Petition to the Trustees and Overseers of the Peabody Essex Museum
We, fellow members of the Peabody Essex Museum, write out of deep concern for the future of the Phillips Library. We are museum members, donors, descendants of donors, as well as citizens of Essex County and beyond. We are scholars, authors, researchers, historians, genealogists, librarians, archivists, students, and educators who use the library and need regular access and professional assistance to do our work. We are concerned by the reduction of hours, because this decision inhibits our ability to use the library efficiently.
We worry that hours will be further diminished and would point out that short-term research appointments with staff are not a substitute. The loss of staff jeopardizes institutional memory, management of the collections, and our access to those whose assistance we need. We are troubled that in the wake of the museum's exciting expansion, one of New England's oldest history libraries is being allowed to decline. It is not being celebrated as the gem that it is.
When the Peabody Essex Museum of Salem and the Essex Institute merged in 1992, they did so, in part "to celebrate and explore New England's history and seaborne commerce, its interaction with other nations and cultures and its influence on the birth and development of America" and "to collect and preserve materials for the civil and natural history of Essex County and for the advancement of the arts, literature and science generally." We heartily subscribe to this mission, and we know the Phillips Library is an integral part. You, as trustees, and we, as members, have been entrusted with a centuries-old inheritance. These collections belong to all of us. We all have a stake in the future of the Phillips Library -- and a shared responsibility.
We urge you to reconsider the recent decisions made to limit access to the collections. While we are aware of the museum's intention to publish the collections electronically, we also know that this will take decades to complete and will never replace the need for access to original documents.
We request that you reinstate the hours of public service and hire adequate staff, including a library professional to oversee the library, with a dedicated library budget. Finally, we encourage you to reinstitute a library committee at the trustee level to advocate for new materials and management of the library collections. Dozens of librarians, archivists, collections managers, and historical society directors stand ready to volunteer their years of experience, expertise, and knowledge of the field.
We appreciate your consideration, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that the Phillips Library remains viable, accessible, and a source of pride for every one of us as a major cultural, historical, and intellectual center of learning.
Friends of the Phillips Library