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Watertown library director explains new collection development policy

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  July 22, 2013 04:30 PM

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Below is a response from Watertown Free Public Library's director Leone Cole about the library trustees' decision to remove certain historical titles from the library's history room.

Last week, a Watertown library trustee defended her board's 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.

Leone Cole's letter responding to the article, which also appeared in July 21's Globe West, is as follows:


My staff and I worked for more than six months to develop a new collection development policy for the library. A collection development policy is the guide by which librarians choose and withdraw materials from the library. In addition to a general collection development policy, we also created a specific collection development policy for the local history collection, since it is a fairly specialized part of the collection and housed in its own space. The Library Trustees approved the policy at their January, 2013 meeting.

A few months after the approval of the policy, I met with the employee who staffs the local history room to discuss her tasks. One of the tasks we discussed was the recataloging project she had been working on, in which she was updating the database that contains the information about each of the books we have in the collection. I asked her, as she completed that project, to evaluate each book against the collection development policy as it made no sense to recatalog a book that might be withdrawn from the collection.

Over the following days, I received phone calls and emails protesting the “dismantling” of the local history collection.

The local history collection is not being dismantled. As you can see from the collection development policy below, the library has a strong commitment to preserving and collecting Watertown’s history. It is our goal to highlight Watertown’s history both online and within the library. This new policy allows us to do that by freeing up valuable space and by focusing our efforts on Watertown. Our community public library cannot have as a mission to collect and preserve all of the non-Watertown historical materials that researchers may want to view. We are not an archive or research library but we are fortunate to live in an area that has extensive archives and reference materials. Our collection can and should be Watertown intensive.

To date, no materials have been withdrawn from the collection, but I would like to offer some examples of titles that are currently being considered for withdrawal. Each one of them is available to be read in its entirety at the Internet Archive, a nonprofit dedicated to permanently preserving works such as these. Any materials that we do withdraw will be offered to the Watertown Historical Society for their use.

Our local history goals for the upcoming year:

  • Organize the collection so that even casual readers can find the materials they need
  • Increase the materials available through our website through actual scanning of the materials or via link to the Internet Archive or other research facility
  • Promote the use of (free at the library) and other historical databases
  • Expand the collection to include more recent Watertown history
  • Work with other Town departments and interested groups to raise awareness of the Town’s rich history

Local History Collection Policy:

Local History resources are of lasting and cumulative value for developing local knowledge and understanding.

Saving unique historical records, photographs, etc. that document the past is one of the important services of a public library.

Goals: The purpose of the Local History Collection is to serve the community through acquisition, classification, preservation and provision of access to a well-organized and balanced collection that documents Watertown’s history.

Scope: The aim of the Local History Collection is to provide a range of materials reflecting the history of the community. Emphasis will be on the acquisitions of those materials which will contribute to the knowledge of the social, civic, religious, economic and cultural life, both past and present of Watertown, Massachusetts. Materials to be collected include books, diaries, yearbooks, pamphlets, newsletters, bulletins, periodicals, reports, letters, speeches, manuscripts, documents, maps, atlases, clippings, photographs, slides, films, videotapes, sound recordings, electronic materials, paintings, art works, prints, posters, stereo views, genealogical records, minutes, memorabilia, ephemera such as commemorative programs and advertisements as well future types of recorded records. The Collection may include a selection of materials about other towns and genealogical materials about Massachusetts and the United States that relate to Watertown.

Chronological Scope: Acquisitions from any time period may be considered.

Geographical Scope: Collections will emphasize individuals, groups and organizations whose activities have principally been in Watertown.

The following list provides guidelines for the type of material that may be sought for inclusion in the local history collection:

Published works:

  • Published histories or other works (i.e. articles, dissertations, manuscripts, pamphlets or theses) relevant to Watertown concerning buildings, businesses, history, organizations, and residents.
  • Published works by Watertown residents.
  • Records of local businesses and associations, schools, churches, sporting bodies, welfare organisations etc.
  • Papers of prominent local families/individuals, genealogies and manuscripts.
  • Relevant family history research papers and publications.
  • Reference material such as bibliographies, directories and guides. This may include guides to holdings of relevant material in other manuscript or archival collections.
  • Watertown based publications such as newspapers, magazines, gazettes, newsletters, etc.
  • Periodicals about Watertown
  • Yearbooks from the public or private schools in Watertown.
  • Research papers and theses pertaining to Watertown
  • Studies undertaken by private or government bodies referring to, or having impact on Watertown.

Unpublished works:

  • Archives of local organizations (archives must contain historically important information)
  • Papers, correspondences, diaries, of Watertown residents (must contain historically important information)
  • Ephemera, including leaflets, flyers, pamphlets, original documents such as land deeds, certificates and military papers specifically concerning Watertown
  • Documents/research papers/photographs relating to buildings (private, commercial and public) and property.
  • Catalogues, flyers, pamphlets and other promotional items issued by Watertown businesses, organizations, political persons, schools, town departments, etc. containing historically important information


  • Photographic works of local historical interest including prints, postcard, slides and negatives of individuals, groups, buildings, landscapes, and events.
  • Plans including Survey plans, Land subdivision plans, Architectural plans and Aerial photographs.
  • Current and historic maps of Watertown
  • Oral histories made about Watertown and its residents.

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