Genealogy with Alan Horbal

Berkshire Athenaeum: Pittsfield's Public Library

genealogy_treeThe Local History Department has announced the following schedule of  Genealogy Classes: On four Tuesdays in March (March  8, 15, 22 & 29) professional genealogist Alan Doyle Horbal will lead hands-on sessions on using the census and other resources.

  • Outline and instruction on researching the 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940 U.S. Census.
  • Discover how to find your ancestors’ emigration to the U.S. using the website and the website, along with several other databases.
  •   Discover how to search for family members outside of the U.S. using  Alan will explore England, Canada, Poland and other countries.

All students must have an E Mail account and be computer literate. Limited space. We ask that you attend all four classes. You may bring your own laptop or use a library device.

Registration opens February 1st. Register online  through the Calendar of Events page on the…

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Berkshire Athenaeum: Holiday Hours


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“THE HEART OF THE SEA” at the Berkshire Athenaeum Explore the Reality!

heart of the sea


Visit the Herman Melville Memorial Room where the world’s largest collection of Melville Family Treasures, Whaling Artifacts and Scrimshaw are always on display.

Ron Howard’s new film In the Heart of the Sea will open in theaters on December 11th. For those of us who live in Pittsfield, there is a special significance to this event.

Based on the story of the wreck of the whale ship Essex as recounted by her first mate Owen Chase, the film also addresses the effect this tale had on Herman Melville and the writing of the great American novel, Moby Dick. Melville lived in Pittsfield from 1850 to 1863. It was here that he penned his novel, published in 1851, while gazing from the window of his study at Arrowhead toward the humped silhouette of Mt. Greylock in the distance.

Moving forward over 100 years, in 1953, under the patronage of Harvard University professor Dr. Henry Murray, the Herman Melville Memorial Room opened in the Old Athenaeum “to provide a convenient center for Melville studies in Pittsfield, thereby perpetuating the memory of a world famous local author.” Donated materials included books, portraits, personal possessions, art prints, letters and photographs. When the current library was designed, an elegant space was included to permanently house the treasures that comprise this collection. Over the past 62 years, the collection has continued to grow. Today it is considered to be one of the top three centers for Melville studies in the world and is visited by tourists and Melville scholars year-round.

Among many other items, within the Melville Room visitors may view the portrait of Melville painted in 1847, the library table that sat in his Arrowhead study as he worked at the manuscript of Moby Dick, and even some of his feather pens, blotters and ink stands. Also on view is a display of artifacts related to whaling and a portion of the Athenaeum’s renowned Milham Scrimshaw Collection. Many books are available for further exploration of the various themes that drive the film “In the Heart of the Sea”.

Additionally, since 1975, Arrowhead, Melville’s Pittsfield residence, has been the home of the Berkshire County Historical Society. Locals and tourists alike can wander the grounds of the farm, tour the house, and attend special events.

In conjunction with the opening of “In the Heart of the Sea” the Athenaeum has created an introductory display in the Blake Reading Room of the library and encourages anyone wishing to explore the reality behind the film to visit the Herman Melville Memorial Room, located on the main floor in the Local History area of the library. The room is available for viewing whenever the library is open.

Also, to coincide with the opening of the movie, the Berkshire County Historical Society will re-open Arrowhead for a limited time. Tours of the house will be offered on the hour, 10-3, December 11, 12, 13 and 18, 19, and 20.  The book by Nathaniel Philbrick will be available in the BCHS shop! (Please note: otherwise, Arrowhead is closed for tours.)

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Teen Book Giveaway: December 14 – 19


Be ready for vacation reading opportunities! During Teen Book Giveaway Week, Monday, December 14 through Saturday, December 19, stop in and grab a book or magazine from the free table in the Young Adults Department. We will offer paperbacks, popular titles, new and next-to-new. Limit one free item per teen, while supplies last.

Sponsored by the Friends of the Berkshire Athenaeum.

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Historical Reprints Make Unique Holiday Gifts

history books

In need of an out-of-the-ordinary gift? On display in the Blake Reading Room on the Athenaeum’s  main floor are various Berkshire County historical titles that have been reprinted for use by modern students and researchers. Many of these volumes had been out of print for decades before being republished by The Berkshire Family History Association. In the course of republishing, complete name indexes were created for most of the volumes.

For the holiday season, copies of all of these books are available for purchase at the Local History Department of the Berkshire Athenaeum. All proceeds from the sale of these books will benefit the Library. Inquiries should be addressed to the Local History Department of the Library at 499-9480 x6.

Books on display with the cost of the reprint are:

  • The History of Pittsfield (1844/2001) by David Field $15.00
  • A Guide to Berkshire County Cemeteries (1988) $10.00
  • History of the Town of Washington (1918/1992) by Crane & Thompson $22.50
  • History of the Town of Lanesboro (1905/1994) by Charles Palmer $25.00
  • History of Lenox and Richmond (1904/1994) by Charles Palmer $7.50
  • The Western Boundary of Massachusetts: a study of Indian and Colonial History (1886/1994) by Franklin L. Pope $7.50
  • History of West Stockbridge 1774-1974 (1976/1990) by Edna B. Garnett $12.00
  • Taking the High Road (Savoy History pub. 1997) by Jane Phinney $18.00
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Food for Fines: Food donations pay overdue charges in November

food collection

The Berkshire Athenaeum will offer a modified fines amnesty from Sunday, November 1, through Monday, November 30. During this four-week period the library will accept non perishable food items in lieu of paying fines for overdue books. According to Library Director Ron Latham, “This ‘Food for Fines’ initiative has become an annual tradition at the Berkshire Athenaeum, which for over twenty years has linked the extended fines amnesty period to the Thanksgiving holiday.”
“Borrowing library items is free but if they aren’t returned by the due date we assess a fee or overdue charge”, explained Cathy Congelosi, Supervisor of Adult Circulation at the Athenaeum, “Sometimes patrons forget to or can’t pay off of this charge.” The food-for-fines program is the library’s attempt to create a more positive way for patrons to take care of this obligation.
“With a Thanksgiving holiday coming up that encourages Americans to reflect on all we have to be thankful for, donating food in lieu of fines is a feel good solution that’s a perfect fit for this holiday,” says Latham. “It’s a win, win, win situation because the borrower wins by clearing up an overdue fine record, the library wins by getting overdue our items returned, and area needy win by getting donated food at a time when the food supply is short.”
Food will be collected in boxes located at the Adult Circulation Desk and at the Children’s Service Desk. When “paying” off a fine with a donated food item, a staff librarian should be alerted prior to depositing the item into the collection boxes. Food will be accepted not only for payment of overdue fines for items currently in circulation, but also may be applied to outstanding overdue fines from other transactions. The replacement costs of lost or damaged materials may not be resolved by donated food.
During the amnesty period, in addition to food brought in lieu of fines, the Athenaeum will encourage general donations of food not associated with overdue library books. All donated food will be turned over to the Rotary Club of Pittsfield as part of that organization’s annual food collection drive that distributes non-perishable food to area food banks providing services to area needy.

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Join us for our book launch of Bernard A. Drew’s new work, “Literary Luminaries of the Berkshires”!

, Literary Luminaries of the Berkshires: From Herman Melville to Patricia Highsmith

Literary Luminaries of the Berkshires by Bernard A. Drew

The Berkshire Athenaeum on is adding a new book to its collection of works by local authors. History Press and local historian Bernard A. Drew will launch his newest work, Literary Luminaries of the Berkshires: From Herman Melville to Patricia Highsmith, with a talk and book signing in the auditorium at the Athenaeum on Thursday, July 23rd, at 6 p.m.

The Massachusetts Berkshires has long appealed to talented writers, from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Edith Wharton to Sinclair Lewis and Joan Ackermann. The Green River in Great Barrington inspired William Cullen Bryant’s poetry. Charles Pierce Burton’s childhood hometown of Adams became the setting for his frolicking Boys of Bob’s Hill juvenile books. Patricia Highsmith, during an interlude in Lenox, quizzed her undertaker-landlord for information she might use in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Drew, who lives in Great Barrington, has collected information about local fiction writers and poets for more than 30 years. In this, his latest book, he chronicles some 250 wordsmiths who took inspiration from these hills and valleys. “Don’t expect encyclopedia entries,” the author said. “This is written from a local historian’s point of view, looking closely at the relationship of these writers to the landscape and culture of the Berkshires.”

Ronald Latham, director of the Berkshire Athenaeum, wrote in the foreword of the book, that Drew’s arrangement of material by theme gives him “the opportunity to digress beautifully into more extensive background notes, contextual anecdotes and humorous jibes that allow him to play to his strengths as the foremost historian of the Berkshires.”

The Berkshire Athenaeum’s Berkshire Authors Room is the area’s largest accumulation of works – fiction, poetry, non-fiction – by writers who have lived or worked here, or who have written about the Berkshires.

The public is invited to this free event, which will be held in the library’s auditorium. Light refreshments will be served and signed copies of Mr. Drew’s book will be available for purchase. We hope to see everyone there!

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