The Boston Public Library is its own kind of winter wonderland

Winter Oasis

Story Robyn Griggs Lawrence

January, 2020

When the Boston Public Library—America’s first tax-supported lending library—opened in 1895, its architect, Charles Follen McKim, called it “the palace of the people.” A crown jewel of Renaissance Beaux-Arts Classic architecture overlooking Copley Square, the library contains more than 23 million items (only the US Library of Congress has more volumes). 

The Bates Reading Room, a Roman hall with a 50-foot barrel vault ceiling flanked by two half domes and 15 arched windows, has been a favorite spot for Bostonians to feed their brains since the library opened. The room is named after library benefactor Joshua Bates, a London banker who devoured books when he was growing up poor in Weymouth, Massachusetts. As a young professional, Bates could not afford books, so he spent his evenings reading in a local bookstore. When he made his donation, Bates wrote: “It will not do to have the rooms in the proposed library much inferior to the rooms occupied for the same object by the upper classes. Let the virtuous and industrious of the middle and mechanic class feel that there is not so much difference between them.” Bates added the rooms “should be well-warmed in winter, and well-lighted.”

Last year, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced the creation of the Fund for the Boston Public Library, which has raised millions for preservation and restoration of the McKim building as well as digital innovations and technology. 

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