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Polly Welts Kaufman with the two donated quilts
November 13, 2015

University Archives Celebrates Boston Public Schools Library Program, New Acquisitions


  • Boston
UMass Boston Home to Two Courses that Trained Library Paraprofessionals in 1970s

When a friend invited then-parent volunteer Chris Lopez to take a course at UMass Boston called “Books and the City Child,” she didn’t really want to become a librarian. This month, this reluctant librarian is celebrating her retirement from the Boston Public Schools.

“Library paraprofessionals built the library system in the Boston Public Schools — mothers who wanted to help their schools – that’s how it started. Then they found a slot and they hired us all,” Lopez said.

Lopez and about a dozen other graduates of the Boston Public Schools Library Program attended a reunion recently at the Joseph P. Healey Library. The University Archives and Special Collections Department event also served as a celebration of the program staff, including Polly Welts Kaufman, who taught women’s history at UMass Boston and, beginning in 1970, “Books and the City Child” and “Library and the City Child” for the BPS program.

“I wanted the mothers to have some formal training in children’s literature and the special needs of children and young adults in city schools. I also wanted them to become paid and trained paraprofessionals,” Kaufman said.

Together with the wife of former UMass Boston chancellor Frank Broderick, Barbara Broderick, Kaufman came up with a plan to give library volunteers the chance to take two free classes for college credit that she and other instructors would teach for their BPS salaries.

Kaufman donated her research on the development of the BPS program, as well as her research on Boston women and city school politics, and a quilt to the UMass Boston library archives. The family of Margaret Brown, who also taught the library courses, also donated a quilt. Both quilts document the foundation of 100 school libraries in the city of Boston between 1966 and 1974. The women received the quilts at the opening of the 100th library, at Oliver Hazard Perry School in South Boston, in 1974.

In speaking about her mother, Margaret Brown, Peggy White said, “She reveled in the collaboration that such a grand project as this required – so many people working together so creatively to bring libraries to so many schools. She loved her job because she believed in empowering women, because she loved working with them, and she absolutely loved seeing her passionate interest in connecting children to books and reading come to fruition.”

“Our responsibility is to archive ‘materials of enduring historical value,’” University Archivist Joanne Riley said in her opening remarks. “All [of this] definitely falls into [that] category.”

Martha “Mike” Redding, who started as a volunteer at George Frisbie Hoar School in South Boston and went on to become a district coordinator for Boston School Volunteers, called the courses life-changing.

“Those taking the courses had solid college experience, which enabled them not only to serve school volunteers but also how to move forward in their education and their careers,” Redding said.

Lopez says the UMass Boston course set her up for a lifetime of learning.

“It was the best job I ever had in my life,” Lopez said. “Being the reluctant librarian.”