Boston Public Library Completes Digitization of Bedford’s Earliest Record Books 

May 3, 2023

Submitted by Bedford Town Archivist Ashley Large

Today has been a very exciting day for me as an archivist. But truly, it might be more thrilling for Bedford citizens and enthusiasts of Bedford history! I was notified recently by the staff at the Boston Public Library that they, in conjunction with the Internet Archive, have completed the digitization of seven of Bedford’s earliest record books.  

Because we live in a state that values its past, digitization was performed at no cost to the town.  These volumes chronicle the mechanics of Bedford town government over 188 years and date from Sept. 26, 1729 (three days after Bedford was officially incorporated) to April 23, 1917 (mere weeks after the United States entered World War I).  

This marks the transition of about 3,000 pages of painstakingly handwritten, unique records created over nearly two centuries into 6.1 GB of digital assets that were captured in less than a year. This is really an amazing thing, as something finite has been transformed into something that is seemingly unlimited. Digital files that are shared across cloud storage and far-flung servers, to be accessed on demand by anyone with a network connection, to be downloaded at will… the future is here. 

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And in a way, this is the archivist’s dream – unlimited access. Access is what archives are all about.  

Before digitization, each book received conservation treatments at the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) with funds provided by the Community Preservation Committee and an affirmative Town Meeting vote. 

Volume B was completely rebound. Various tears with well-meaning but ultimately harmful repairs were addressed with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. Each page was gently cleaned. End sheets were reattached and frayed leather corners were trimmed. Bindings were reinforced. Bedford is left with a set of sturdy manuscripts that will survive far into the future.   

As we continue to care for and value the original books, we also manage and preserve the digital surrogates in their electronic state. The bound volumes will rest in a climate-controlled vault in specially-made archival boxes, while the electronic versions are curated for security, data integrity, and format migration within the town’s digital repository.  

You can access them online through the Internet Archive. Check out the Archives Virtual Reading Room on the Town website for a link to the record books, as well as annual reports and annual town meeting warrants. Content is continuously being added but if you don’t see something you’re seeking, please contact me here: [email protected]. Thank you for voting to use Community Preservation funds to proceed with this project and thank you for choosing me to work with your records! 

This is the fourth in a series of articles by Bedford Town Archivist Ashley Large. She shares some of the interesting items that are in the town’s archives.

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