The Lincoln Town Archives, in Lincoln, Massachusetts, is unusual because it is a collaboration between the town’s public library and the Office of the Town Clerk. Makes sense, right? But theirs is an arrangement that is rarer than you’d think. In many, if not most towns, the public library and town clerk’s office operate independently and each hold separate records. In 2008, the Lincoln Public Library and the Office of the Town Clerk entered into a formal agreement, integrating their collections and undertaking joint responsibility for the management of the Town Archives.
Incorporated in 1754, Lincoln is a small town northwest of Boston with an interesting history. It was the site of Paul Revere’s capture during his famous ride of April 1775, and the town has been home to notables such as opera conductor Sarah Caldwell, and computer industry pioneers Ken Olsen (Co-founder of Digital Equipment Corporation) and An Wang (Wang Laboratories), as well as John Linnell and John Flansburgh of more recent They Might Be Giants fame. The town hosts cultural attractions including the Codman Estate, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, and the Gropius House, which was designed and built by Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus Movement.
The Lincoln Town Archives collections are contemporary and historical public and private records, and the Archives reflects both the town’s cultural heritage and its civic history. Collections range from historic maps and early diaries to correspondence and photographs, and from municipal records to rag dolls and unique audio recordings. Thanks to the forward thinking partnership of Town Clerk Susan Brooks and Lincoln Public Library Director Barbara (Bobbie) Myles, and the support of Lincoln’s citizens, the town’s important historical records and artifacts will be preserved for future generations. Marie Wasnock, University Archivist at Lesley University, has been on board as Lincoln’s part-time Archivist since 2008, and splits her time between the Library and the Town Offices.
“The library and the town clerk’s office by definition share a general mission of managing information,” says Susan Brooks. “But we also share a particular piece of that information management function: the preservation and accessibility of the town’s historic records. To me, that is one of the most exciting things that we have done – to make the Town Archives a joint enterprise of the clerk’s office and the library.”
In the Memorandum of Understanding between the two entities, they described in a single page what the relationship was going to be. “We kept it simple,” says Susan Brooks. “We kept it in plain English.” The MOU has created an enduring mechanism with which to continue preservation efforts into the future, and has contributed to the recognition of the Lincoln Town Archives as a legitimate municipal function with its own department budget.
The Town Archives also works collaboratively with the Lincoln Historical Society, co-sponsoring events and bringing together people who are interested in the history of the area in general and of the Town of Lincoln in particular. The Society hosts workshops, facilitates research, and produces print, web, and audiovisual publications that document town history. “While the historical society is the public face of interest in the town’s history,” says Susan Brooks, “at the Archives, we are the behind-the-scenes keepers – we are the protectors and preservers of the collections.”
“Correct storage and upkeep of the Town Archives is crucial,” explains Bobbie Myles on the Lincoln Town Archives website. “Time marches on and history will continue. Improper storage and negligent preservation techniques put important records at risk, leading to irreparable damage and possible destruction of material.” Here is another thing the Lincoln Town Archives is doing right: Educating the community on the value of the town’s collections and best practices for preserving them.
Both Susan and Bobbie remark on how well they work together. Susan is adept at navigating the politics and understanding the system. Susan calls Bobbie “the Quintessential Librarian” - a wealth of knowledge and a ‘network-builder.’ The Town Archives has its own Advisory Council made up of representatives from Lincoln historical organizations and Lincoln residents who are archives and preservation professionals. The Council also includes talent from the wider region, such as the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. Susan and Bobbie both agree that one of the best things about this work is that, “The more you do and the better you do, the better you are asked to be.”
“I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into when I ran for election as town clerk,” says Susan Brooks. “But I am not kidding when I say that this is the best job I've ever had. People think the Town Clerk’s job is just administrative, but it’s actually very personal. We see people into this world, and we see people out of this world.” She looks around the renovated vault as she continues, “I think the Archives is a large part of the real satisfaction that I derive from the job. It feels like the Archives has now come into its own, and that we provide a vital service.”
Susan tells about the thrill of first seeing one of the items in the Archives collection, a beautiful embroidered family register created by a young Sophia Adams, a relation of Presidents John Quincy Adams and John Adams. Hand-stitched at the bottom is the maker’s signature, and the words: Wrought by Sophia Adams in Lincoln October 8, 1824. The Lincoln Town Archives has wrought a future for the town’s historical collections through hard work, collaboration, and support from a town that wears its history with great pride.
Story by Julie Martin NEDCC. Many thanks to Bobbie Myles and Susan Brooks, Lincoln Town Archives, for their help with the story.
Photos courtesy of the Lincoln Town Archives.