A Bird’s Eye View (and More) of the Big Dig

Map of Boston showing the different sections of road construction. The Central Artery is highlighted in yellow. The Central Artery/Tunnel project, also known as the “Big Dig,” was a mega-project intended to alleviate traffic congestion on the I-93 elevated highway. This was accomplished by building an underground highway that included links to Logan Airport and new bridges crossing the Charles River. We have several collections in the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections that document various aspects of this construction from community activism to engineering. The newest of these collections is the John “Jack” M. Quinlan Central Artery/Tunnel Project Photographs.

Quinlan was the Director of Public Affairs for the Big Dig project from 1997-2003. It was his job to update the public on the project’s progress. He sent his staff up in helicopters as often as every two months to document the ever-changing landscape of the Big Dig construction. He then used these aerial photographs—along with additional photographs of other aspects of construction, graphics, and models—to put together presentations. These presentations were given to different audiences like business companies, law firms, and school groups.

Aerial of Logan International Airport with colored overlay showing future Interstate 90 airport traffic routes.  Cross section graphic showing the street level, MBTA transit way, an Northbound Central Artery tunnel.

With over 500 photographs in the collection, these photographs show a wide range of views of the Big Dig, from wide aerials and close up tunnel shots of construction to design graphics and models of construction. All items are digitized and available to view in Northeastern University’s Digital Repository Service.

Underground tunnel with center column separating Interstate 90 and Interstate 93 ramps.  Aerial view of Charles River crossing with partially constructed bridge.

Getting to Know the Boston Globe Library Collection: Inside the Box

The Boston Globe Library Collection has significantly expanded the Northeastern University Library's Boston-focused social justice and community collections in its Archives and Special Collections. 4,376 boxes comprise over a million photographs, over five million negatives of unprinted photographs, and 119 years of newspaper clippings from the Globe, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, and other area and national newspapers. Today, this vast collection of visual and textual resources is open to all researchers, whose interests may range widely—from Red Sox scores and legislative debates to Melnea Cass’s relentless pursuit of racial and economic justice.

The collection of the Boston Globe Library is broken down into four parts: Newspaper Clippings, Microfilm, Print Photographs, and Negative Photographs. While researchers can access each part individually, all components of the collection can complement the different approaches to a research question. For instance, those interested in the history of school desegregation can use the print photographs study to how the first day of bussing was covered visually in the Boston Globe; the negatives to see all of the shots the photographers took, including the ones that were published; and the newspaper clippings to research the range of reporting on Boston Public Schools, desegregation, and the Boston School Committee.

Front and back of a photograph from the Print Photographs collection:

Researching with our Special Collections and the Boston Globe Library collection in tandem will enrich any telling of the history of Boston. In a series of upcoming posts we’ll share the many ways that research and rich experiential learning can be accomplished using the Boston Globe Library Collection. To find out more in the meantime, visit the finding aid here.

If you have any questions or would like to begin researching in the Boston Globe Library Collection please contact us at archives@northeastern.edu or 617-373-2351.

Summer Building Projects at Snell Library

Construction of Snell Library, 1988This summer, several important projects will bring improvements to Snell Library.

Roof Replacement

Snell Library is turning 30 years old next year, and it's time for its roof and skylight to be replaced. Work has begun this week on the first phase of this project, which involves constructing scaffolding around the entire building. As part of the scaffolding construction, a crane will be placed in front of Snell Library on Saturday, June 8, and Sunday, June 9. As needed during this phase, signage will be posted to redirect traffic around the work zone and into the building. The second phase of the roof project involves parking a large vacuum truck on the service road between the Library and the train tracks. This truck will be used to vacuum all of the river stone off the roof, exposing the roof lining below, which will be replaced. Vacuum work will happen from 6:00 AM to 2:00 PM every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for several weeks at the outset of the project. Conducting this work on Fridays is critical for the entire roof replacement to be completed in time for the Fall semester. We anticipate this work may be noisy in some parts of the building, depending on what part of the roof is being worked on. Subsequent phases include replacing the building's skylight and installing new rooftop HVAC (heating/ventilation/air conditioning) units. Specific schedules for these phases are still being planned and are dependent on the availability of materials. The skylight replacement will eventually require the construction of temporary safety walls inside the Library on the 3rd and 4th floor areas immediately below the skylight. Further details about this phase of work will be forthcoming.

 

MORE RESTROOMS!

That's right—we're adding restrooms on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors! The construction zones will be in the same location on each of those floors, directly across from the service elevator. While the 2nd floor work will mainly impact staff work areas, a small section of study space on the 3rd and 4th floors will need to be blocked off during the restroom construction. Temporary walls will be installed on all three floors between Friday, June 7 and Wednesday, June 12. Work within these construction areas will begin on or around June 20. Once the new restrooms are fully operational in the Fall, the existing restrooms will be renovated.

 

New Furniture on the 1st Floor

In the second half of the summer, most of the seating on the 1st floor will be replaced. We have been working with Campus Planning and Steelcase to select and purchase 333 new chairs, 8 new couches for the Hub and 11 new tables. We will also be developing an improved cleaning regimen for this new furniture as well as all furniture throughout the building.   As with any renovation, there will be a lot more noise in the building this summer than usual, but we'll work to ensure that Library users are given advance notice of any disruptions. (We'll also have earplugs available at the Help and Information Desk!)   Thanks to our Facilities Specialist, Ethan Bren, for providing the details in this post.

Behind the Scenes in the Archives: Where Do We Start with a New Collection?

The Archives and Special Collections recently received materials from two Boston Globe reporters about their work on reporting various aspects of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project (Big Dig). Investigative journalist Sean Murphy and transportation journalist Tom Palmer wrote on the Big Dig throughout the 1990s and 2000s, covering cost overruns, court cases, traffic updates, and more. This new collection  joins a group of other collections already housed at Northeastern documenting the Big Dig.

When collections are donated to the Archives, they have been packed up by the person or organization in whatever kind of box (or other container) that they had available. When the collections arrive at the Archives, we first re-box the materials in acid-free, archival quality boxes to help preserve them. It may not always seem like it at first glance, but there is usually a reasoning behind the way materials are boxed by the donor. Because of this, we make sure to re-box the materials in the same order in which they were originally packed. Once the materials are rehoused we can begin the (often long) process of creating a finding aid for the collection. Step one: conducting a survey.

In order to better understand this new collection and how it fits in with the other Big Dig collections we already have, I conducted a survey on the materials. At 114 boxes, surveying this collection was a bit daunting, but the only thing to do is start at box one.

[caption id="attachment_275090" align="aligncenter" width="416"] A portion of the boxes that were able to fit into one photo.[/caption]

For the survey, I created a spreadsheet in order to make notes of the types of materials in each box as well as any other notes on things that I come across. Wading my way through all of the boxes, I found materials ranging from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on budgets and contract information, various court cases that stemmed from the project, contractor lists, accident reports, community newsletters, publicity materials, maps, and even boxes of artifacts from different construction and excavation sites.

[caption id="attachment_275085" align="aligncenter" width="455"] Items donated by Tom Palmer include promotional items like a calendar and chocolate bar wrapper, construction materials like safety net, pipes, and washers, and memorabilia like the paper weight from the Ted Williams Tunnel opening seen on the lower left.[/caption]

Going through these materials, I learned just how big the Big Dig was. The materials cover not only how this project directly affected the local communities, but also how major this project was for the international engineering and construction fields.

A survey is not an exhaustive list of every single thing in the boxes, but it is a good start. With it we are able to make a summary of the collection, put it in our online Archives catalog, and make it visible to potential researchers. A survey does not replace a detailed finding aid, but it serves as a crucial step in allowing researchers to access relevant materials in a timely manner.

Dean Dan Cohen Authors Atlantic Op-Ed About Obama Library and the Value of Digital Collections

Photo of Dan Cohen Dan Cohen, Dean of the University Library, has penned an op-ed for The Atlantic about the value of digital collections, in response to the announcement that the Obama Presidential Library will comprise a digital collection, available online, as well as a physical research center in Chicago.

While some have responded negatively to this news, Cohen, who previously served as the founding executive director of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), argues in his essay that digital collections, which are certainly very familiar to most people in this era of smartphone photos and email, should not be considered somehow lesser than physical collections. He emphasizes that the digital Obama collection will be by its nature much more accessible than the physical libraries of previous presidents, because researchers will not need to travel to Chicago to make use of materials. As a result, the research potential of the Obama Library is likely as vast as the digital collection itself.

Dan Cohen also serves as Northeastern University's Vice Provost for Information Collaboration and Professor of History.