Vivian Spiro grew up loving to visit libraries in her hometown; and when she entered the Central Library in Copley Square for the first time, she was astounded. Greeted by a sculpture of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edward Austin Abbey’s mural, “The Quest and Achievement of the Holy Grail,” Spiro was impressed by how the City of Boston erected a civic building created to expose its citizens to art and architecture.
“Nothing could have prepared me for the splendor of the Boston Public Library,” said Spiro, Beacon Hill resident. “I have never seen anything like it, particularly in a municipal building. It blows me away.”
Spiro has served as an overseer at the Museum of Fine Arts, was a former journalist at The Boston Globe, owned and operated a public relations firm, and has been a member of the Events Committee at the Boston Athenaeum. She was the Chair of the President’s Circle at Beth Israel Hospital, worked for a documentary film company, and is involved in many non-profit organizations.
The Tufts University graduate later joined the Associates of the Boston Public Library, and in 1998, became the Chairwoman, dedicated to raising awareness and promoting public access to the 24 million precious items. She supervises the cataloguing and conservation of an extensive collection of rare books, manuscripts, artworks, and architectural sketchbooks.
“The library is all about bringing culture to the masses,” described Spiro. “It’s about bringing art, music, architecture, and great literature to the people. That’s what got me hooked on these special collections.”
On April 11, Spiro presented, “Boston’s Secret Stash,” during a Beacon Hill Women’s Forum (BHWF) gathering at the Hampshire House. Eighty-five guests were guided on a virtual tour of the pieces at the BPL that Spiro is dedicated to preserving.
“What’s wonderful about being able to conserve and digitize is you can zoom in and see everything from the texture of the paper to the type of paint,” described Spiro.
One of the initial projects that Spiro worked on was the conservation of John Adams’ personal atlas, an enormous, 20 lb. book filled with maps from countries around the world, and hand-written scrolls – a $25,000 undertaking. The atlas was featured in an exhibition of Adams’ private library, “John Adams Unbound.”
“One of the things that most people don’t know is that in the Boston Public Library, there is the only personal library of an American president, anywhere in the U.S.,” Spiro said. “This is not just his writings. This is what an 18th Century, educated man would have read. It’s extraordinary.”
Another major project was the conservation, cataloguing, and digitization of a vast selection of American Abolitionist Movement materials, which includes papers from the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, founded in 1832.
“They would not stand for slavery, which they knew was a moral abomination,” said Spiro. “They were indomitable. They made all the difference in Massachusetts.”
The cache of rare antiquities also consists of a pipe and lock of hair from Abolitionist, John Brown, who led a raid on the Federal Army at Harpers Ferry in 1859. There was a draft of the “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” written on a linen napkin, and a map of safe houses used in the Underground Railroad.
“We have done and continue to do things with a literary focus. We realize that the real need is to bring attention to these treasurers,” Spiro said. “The extent of what still needs to be done is like the warehouse in Raiders of the Lost Ark. For anyone who loves learning, this is like entering a magic realm.”