February 17, 2018

Boston PL Launches “John Adams Unbound”

By LJ Staff

A new exhibition at the Boston Public Library (BPL), "John Adams Unbound," represents the first public showing of the complete personal library of John Adams, the second president, a founding father, and a lifelong book collector. Among the highlights are numerous annotations made by Adams, a very participatory reader. The exhibition, on view through April 1, 2007, is the result of a three-year project to catalog, preserve, digitize, and provide access to Adams’s library. It was funded by an appropriation to the General Services Administration and by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Adams Library has been in the careful custody of the BPL since 1894, but before that it was touch and go. In 1822, at 86, Adams issued plans to give 2742 volumes to the Adams Academy, a boys prep school planned for his hometown of Quincy, MA. However, the school was delayed, and Adams’s library languished in a farmhouse for two decades. It was then transferred to the Quincy Town House and the Town Hall; when the school was completed in 1870, the books were placed in open stacks, subject to theft and mutilation. In 1892, the collection was moved to the new Thomas Crane Library in Quincy, where it was presented and treated carefully, but it received little use. When the BPL’s landmark building approached completion in 1893, library trustees asked the custodians of the Adams library if they’d move it to Boston, and they agreed.