First Commissioner Awards Presented


November 10, 2015
Celeste Bruno
Communications Specialist
1-800-952-7403 x208

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners is celebrating its 125th year. On May 28, 1890, thanks to the efforts of Bostonian Elizabeth Putnam Sohier, Governor John Q. A. Brackett signed "An Act to Promote the Establishment and Efficiency of Free Public Libraries" [Acts of 1890, chapter 347]. The act created the Free Public Library Commission, now known as the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC). It was the first of its kind in the United States.

The first Commissioners were innovators and pioneers of their time ushering in a new era for public libraries in Massachusetts. MBLC Director Dianne Carty noted, "The first Commissioners may have never envisioned ebooks or computers, but they laid the groundwork for the collaborative way that libraries work, and that makes today's innovation possible."

Inspired by the work of the first Commissioners and in celebration of the MBLC's 125th anniversary, the MBLC recently held the inaugural Commissioner Awards honoring individuals who have made outstanding contributions to Massachusetts libraries and the residents they serve.

The awards were presented to the following individuals at a reception at the Massachusetts State House, the location of the first meeting of the Free Library Commission held on October 30, 1890.

In addition to the awards, the Commissioners received congratulations from the State's General Court in the form of a resolution presented by Library Legislative Caucus chair State Representative Kate Hogan, and a citation from Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito.

2015 Commissioner Award Winners

The Anna Eliot Ticknor Award was awarded to Tom Blake, Digital Projects Manager at the Boston Public Library. Mr. Blake is currently responsible for the creation of beautiful, versatile, and sustainable objects for the Boston Public Library's digital initiatives. Since 2011, he has managed an ambitious project to help digitize collections from across Massachusetts in conjunction with Digital Commonwealth, a statewide repository and pilot service hub of the Digital Public Library of America. As head of the Digital Commonwealth project, he has ensured that institutions across the Commonwealth are able to share their historic items digitally in the archive for all to see.

The Henry Steadman Nourse Award was awarded to Ed Augustus, former state senator and current city manager of the City of Worcester. In 2007, Mr. Augustus championed the public library incentive program, which allowed for $250,000 of public funding to be matched by private donors and given to public libraries across the state. Since becoming city manager of Worcester, he has helped to oversee the One City, One Library program, putting branch libraries in public schools to provide students and teachers with resources during the day and opening them to the community after school hours. This project has been recognized by the Harvard Ash Center as the 2015 "Bright Idea in Government."

The Samuel Swett Green Award was awarded to Amy Ryan, board chair of the Digital Public Library of America and former president of the Boston Public Library. Ms. Ryan helped bring the Boston Public Library into the 21st century, envisioning what the future of libraries may look like. Under her leadership, BPL became the Library for the Commonwealth, the renovation of the Johnson building began to make the building more welcoming and user-friendly, and branch library services were expanded throughout the city, including the construction of the brand new East Boston branch. During Ms. Ryan's tenure, the Digital Commonwealth reached its potential of opening access to archived materials not just to Massachusetts residents but to the entire world.

The Caleb Benjamin Tillinghast Award was awarded to Ed Markey, United States Senator. Throughout his time in Congress, Senator Markey has worked hard to protect telecommunications and ensure fair and equal access for all Americans. In 1996, he authored the E-Rate Program to help provide discounts to libraries and schools for affordable Internet access and connectivity. This program has expanded Internet access all over the country and connected those who cannot afford to be connected on their own. In 2012, President Obama expanded the program to reach even more libraries and schools. Since its implementation, $42 billion has been used to connect libraries and schools to the Internet and grant access to our most vulnerable populations.

The Elizabeth P. Sohier Award was awarded to Katherine Dibble, former MBLC Commissioner. In 2003, she was appointed by Governor Romney to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners and served on the Board until 2012, including two years as chair. During her time as Commissioner, the MBLC saw a renaissance in library construction, advanced the Green Library Incentive to support sustainable library buildings, pushed for high-speed Internet access across the state, created STEM and STEAM grants, and grants to support job seekers during the economic downturn. Throughout her career, Ms. Dibble has been a tireless advocate for the expansion of access to materials for all citizens of the Commonwealth. She continues that work today as a member of the board of the Massachusetts Friends of Libraries.

During its 125 years, the MBLC has worked with its library partners to develop a world-class library system that gives Massachusetts residents access to 53 million items at the touch of a button, provides access to technology, and helps residents learn to use it. The MBLC helps libraries meet the unique needs of their communities through grants and special programs and supports the digitization of local treasures, making them accessible to people around the world. It has helped communities build and renovate hundreds of libraries and encourages the construction of environmentally responsible libraries.

In addition to the reception, the MBLC has created MBLC Celebrates 125 Years, outlining key moments during every year of its history. Over the course of 125 days between June and October, 125 facts were posted to the MBLC's Twitter and Facebook pages, and can easily be found with the hashtag #MBLC125. Also included in this project is a collection of historical photos posted on the Agency's Tumblr.

Photos from the event are available on the MBLC's Flickr page.

About the First Commissioners

Anna Eliot Ticknor of Boston served as a commissioner from 1890 until her death in 1896. Her father George Ticknor helped lay the groundwork for the founding of the Boston Public Library. She was an educator and founded the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, the first correspondence school in the United States. She was an advocate for education and the role libraries could play in educating the public.

Henry Stedman Nourse of Lancaster was a Civil War veteran who was part of General Sherman's March to the Sea in 1864. He was a professor of ancient languages at Phillips Exeter Academy and a state legislator for the town of Lancaster. Mr. Nourse was also a descendant of Rebecca Nourse, one of the women hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692. He was not only an avid historian of Lancaster's local history but was also a member of many of the Commonwealth's historical societies. Mr. Nourse took this passion to his work with libraries, which he saw as a "treasure house of local history."

Samuel Swett Green of Worcester served as a Commissioner from 1890 until 1909. He worked at the Worcester Free Public Library from its creation in 1867, first as director and later as a librarian from 1871 until 1909. Mr. Green was a library innovator and is referred to as the father of modern research librarians. He was a founding member of the group that became the American Library Association and served as the organization's president. While president, he gave a speech that opened with the words, "The function of the library is to serve its users." This helped direct libraries across the country for years to come.

Caleb Benjamin Tillinghast came to Boston in 1870 and worked as a reporter at The Boston Journal. He served as the city editor but left journalism to work in libraries in 1879. Mr. Tillinghast was the first chairman of the Commission and served in this post until his death in 1909. He was also the Massachusetts State Librarian from 1879 until 1909. He was a repository of information and guidance within the State House. Representatives, senators and governors often consulted with him on different matters. A common phrase in the building during his tenure was, "Go see Tillinghast."

Elizabeth P. Sohier of Boston was the driving force behind the Free Public Library Commission with a commitment to getting a library in every Massachusetts city and town. She helped expand library services wherever she could. During the Lawrence Textile Strike in 1912, Ms. Sohier worked with the governor to provide books for the striking workers. During World War I, Ms. Sohier worked with the American Library Association to help provide library services to soldiers in camps. She also helped with the appointment of a state agent to assist public libraries with immigrant populations and shaped numerous pieces of library legislation that were passed during her lifetime. She served as a Commissioner from the agency's inception in 1890 until her death in 1926 and was secretary for all 36 years.

About MBLC

The Board of Library Commissioners ( is the agency of state government with the statutory authority and responsibility to organize, develop, coordinate and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth. The Board advises municipalities and library trustees on the operation and maintenance of public libraries, including construction and renovation. It administers state and federal grant programs for libraries and promotes cooperation among all types of libraries through regional library systems and automated resource sharing. It also works to ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of their geographic location, social or economic status, age, level of physical or intellectual ability or cultural background, have access to essential new electronic information technologies and significant electronic databases.