Getting into the Spirit: Boston's New Mary Baker Eddy Library Is Dedicated to the Betterment of Humanity, the Quest for Meaning, and the Achievements of One Remarkable Woman

By Kniffel, Leonard | American Libraries, May 2003 | Go to article overview

Getting into the Spirit: Boston's New Mary Baker Eddy Library Is Dedicated to the Betterment of Humanity, the Quest for Meaning, and the Achievements of One Remarkable Woman


Kniffel, Leonard, American Libraries


"The time for thinkers has come; the place for thinkers is now open," said Virginia Harris last September at the dedication of the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity in Boston (AL, Nov. 2002, p. 26). As the chair of the library board of trustees welcomed some 500 dignitaries and guests--including Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and former Archivist of the United States Don Wilson--she declared that the new $50-million facility at 200 Massachusetts Avenue is a community center dedicated to "the quest for meaning." But what does that mean?

For one thing, it means that the library, established by the Christian Science church as a separate 501(c)3 corporation with nondenominational trustees and advisors, will serve not merely as a neutral public-information repository. Rather, as library signage proclaims, it will focus on "investigating the questions that matter." And people are investigating: Six months after the library opened, it had logged 60,000 visitors.

Chief Executive Officer Stephen Danzansky says the establishment of the library comes at a time of "great spiritual seeking" and an "accelerated demand for spiritual resources." The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time of the opening that a Gallup poll had found that 78% of Americans feel a need for spiritual growth, up from 58% in 1994.

The new library also offers scholars and the public new insights into the life of religious leader Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), founder of Christian Science, and is making most of Eddy's 25,000 papers and records available for the first time. The high-tech facility features a Research Room where documents are being archived digitally as well as in their original form, a Reference Room of books on spirituality and related subjects, a walk-through 30-foot stained-glass globe "Mapparium" showing the world as it looked 70 years ago, a Hall of Ideas programming space, and a Quest Gallery of interactive exhibits focusing on Eddy's role as a spiritual seeker and author.

The Reference Room collection of over 10,000 books, periodicals, and audiovisual materials is organized by "core research themes," such as "women in leadership" and "spirituality and health." The surrounding stacks cover religious history, including the history of Christian Science, 19th-century history, and women's history. There is also a growing collection of materials for young adults, as well as an extensive collection of Bibles.

Librarian Judy Huenneke, head of the Research Room, offered mini-tutorials to visitors during the opening weekend. She says that only a small percentage of the library's archival material had thus far been digitized, but Eddy's letters can be viewed on screen in their original form and in transcription, separately or simultaneously, on a split screen.

Inner strategy

Lesley Pitts, manager of archival and library functions, is a former nurse who joined the organization two years ago as a media manager. "I like to care for things as well as people," she says. Pitts supervises about 30 people, including several librarians and library assistants in the Research and Reference Rooms. The church has never had a unified and cataloged collection before, she says. "We started gathering materials from all corners, but we needed a strategy."

The strategy became "the quest for spirituality," observes Pitts, "and the confluence of spirituality and health." The use of prayer for healing is one of the basic concepts of Christian Science, but the collection is not aimed solely at the church's practitioners. It welcomes "people who have questions about life," Pitts says. She hopes the library will attract visitors who are trying "to find their own way through the journey."

Claiming to contain one of the largest collections by and about an American woman, the library occupies four stories and 81,000 renovated square feet in the Christian Science Publishing House, also the home of the Pulitzer Prize--winning Christian Science Monitor. …

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