Save The Phillips Library - Salem, Massachusetts
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The Phillips Library houses "400,000 volumes and more than
a linear mile of manuscripts" acquired over two centuries"
including early documents from Salem's founding, items relating to the Witch Trials, a signed first edition of the Scarlet Letter, and a deposited copy of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Charter. These items were acquired by the Peabody Essex Museum in 1992 by the merger of two Salem institutions: The Essex Institute and Peabody Museum. Establishing the largest monopoly of Salem's tangible history.
Less than a prior, Rizvi Architects completed a massive restoration of the Phillips Library. This included climate control and the addition of modern archival storage. In 2011 the Phillips Library was closed again for renovations which were originally slated for completion in 2013. Since then, the collection has moved to Peabody, and as of 2018 will be housed permanently in Rowley. (Forty minutes outside of Salem)
At the December 6, 2017, Historical Commission meeting, the PEM officially announced for the first time that the Phillips Library collections would not be returning to Salem as originally promised.
Instead representatives from the PEM and their architecture firm Schwartz/Silver (hired in 2011) unveiled a plan to convert the previous Phillips Library building into private office space for museum staff. To do so they would remove the book vault extension from the back of the building and the 110 year old connector which unites Plummer Hall with the Daland House. Replacing the connector with a glass enclosure to serve as a modern entrance to match the PEM's new extension.
The community must stand together in demanding that the Peabody Essex Museum return the Phillips Library collections and make them accessible to the public. Plummer Hall and the Daland House, the former home to the Phillips Library must remain intact and properly preserved.
- Director and CEO
Dan L. Monroe
In decades past, a Friends of the Phillips Library group, consisting of scholars, educators, researchers, book lovers, descendants of donor families, and interested and engaged residents of Salem and its environs, supported the core mission of the Library “to collect and preserve
materials for the civil and natural history of Essex County and for the advancement of the arts, literature, and science generally.” Beginning in 2011, the extended period of closure for the Library, ostensibly for renovation, rendered this group dormant, but the recent revelation by
the leadership of the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) that the bulk of its collections will not be returning to Salem has necessitated its revival.
At this time, the Friends have one crucial aim: to ensure that the Phillips Library Reading Room reopens in Salem, in the midst of the historical landscape that created its collections. To this end, the Friends seek to partner with the PEM in developing a more active stewardship of
our Library, inspired by and reflective of the dynamic urban environment of greater Salem, and expressive of the belief that its collections are valuable assets rather than mere obligations. We believe that the Library’s collections are central to fulfilling the PEM’s mission “to inspire the
public by fusing art, culture, and history in innovative ways”, but for this fusion to occur, it must remain in Salem. For as Salem served as the port that fostered so many cross-cultural connections in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Library should serve as the point of access for those curious about these connections and their ongoing impact.
In our advocacy role, we honor the intent of donors who gifted papers and possessions to an institution situated in the heart of historic Salem, on its oldest street, in a building built by funds donated by the great Salem philanthropist Caroline Plummer, and with the expectation that
their gifts would remain here. Indeed, Plummer herself specified that this building should always serve as place for collections, and never “as a public or private office of business.”
We are encouraged by the recent statement that “to honor the Salem roots of the Library collection, the PEM is working with the city’s Preservation Partners group to determine what collection items can safely be made accessible in Plummer Hall and Daland House”, and eager to support this effort in whatever ways possible. Given the PEM’s extraordinary abilities to make things happen—to encompass a city street within a building and relocate an eighteenth-century Chinese house 7500 miles away from its original site—as well as its considerable resources, we have confidence in its ability to find a way to return the Phillips Library to the community that cherishes it.
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