BLS Archivist Highlights History of the Oldest School
The expanding Boston Latin School Archives, which contain extensive information about the school’s history, have recently made progress in digitizing their materials.
Formally called the BLS Archives and Special Collections in the Harry V. Keefe Library, the purpose of the archives is “to collect, preserve and make available school records of permanent historic and research value.” Included in the archives are letters from former students, sports posters and memorabilia, various student publications, photographs, directories and curricula extending across the school’s nearly 400-year history.
Alumni and faculty often use the archives for anniversary celebrations, reunions and other events, as well as special research projects. School archivist Ms. Valerie Uber says, “As the oldest public school in the nation, [BLS] occupies a unique place in American education and the archives are a valuable resource to help understand this rich history.”
According to Ms. Uber, physical archived items are available to interested people mainly through email requests. Archived materials have been digitally available on the BLS website since 2016.
Ms. Uber has been managing the archives since 2010, taking over from the previous archivist Ms. Cynthia Curtner. “I found the work fascinating and fun,” says Ms. Uber. “The chance to learn about the school’s history and the ‘detective work’ of aspects of answering research questions really appealed to me.”
BLS began the process of converting archived materials digitally in 2014. The artifacts were digitized through the Boston Public Library program, Library for the Commonwealth, which helps small Massachusetts organizations digitize their archival collections.
The archived collections are held in the Internet Archive, a digital nonprofit library that provides free access to millions of e-books, movies and websites. It also allows the public to upload and download materials to its vast collection of resources.
Along with Ms. Uber, the advisory committee that facilitated the digitization of the archives included representatives from the BLS History Department, president of the Boston Latin School Association Mr. Peter G. Kelly (‘83) and BLS Director of Technology Mr. Patrick Hourigan.
The BLS Archive has digitized copies of the Liber Actorum, or the yearbook, of every graduating class from 1933 to 2006. Yearbooks published after 2006 are excluded to protect the privacy of more recent graduates. The BLS Archive has also digitized Issues of the Register, the Argo and other student publications, dating back as far as the mid-1800s.
The digital archives contain a small number of photographs, prepared with the help of student volunteers Joshua Emokpae (I) and Joseph Pucillo (I).
Digitizing the yearbooks has been particularly useful for alumni returning to celebrate their class reunions at BLS Alumni Weekend. “Whatever club you were involved in, you can search for your name and see the pages that you’re on,” says BLS Keefe Librarian Ms. Deeth Ellis. “It really does open up access tremendously for people.”
According to Ms. Ellis, the next step for the digital archives is to incorporate the materials into the Digital Commonwealth. Founded in 2006 by the Boston Public Library, the Digital Commonwealth provides access to digitized documents from Massachusetts libraries, museums and other institutions and also works to help organizations create and manage their cultural heritage materials. Items in the Digital Commonwealth can be easily found via Google search.
As the archives continue to grow and modernize — they provide BLS students and faculty, past and present — with the ability to learn about and connect with their school’s history. William Liyuan (IV), president of BLS History Club, concludes, “The BLS Archives represent the proud tradition of Boston Latin School’s publications and distinctions. Looking back onto the past is essential to growing in the future.”