The world of Special Libraries is a wonderful and informative place. Researchers over the years have come to learn to navigate these unique collections to unlock the knowledge within. Many libraries have become well known in the research community and are frequently used. However, one group of libraries remains mostly forgotten and rarely visited by those outside their membership community. These are the libraries of the Freemasons.
The origins of this once secret society are lost to antiquity, but what is known is that in 1717, in London England, four lodges came together to form what was to become The Grand Lodge of England. From this point on, Freemasons have influenced world affairs and history. As the years passed its membership swelled to include the freethinkers, socialites, artists and leaders of the day. Men like Winston Churchill, Jean Jacques Rousseau, King Edward VII of England and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were included among their ranks. Freemasonry had woven itself into the very fabric of world society. And even though Russian Czars, Nazi Germany and other totalitarian rulers tried to extinguish the light of Freemasonry, it endured and continued to flourish.
As it grew, its influence made it over into the New World. When America declared its independence and freedom from monarch rule, freemasons were there. Men like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and John Hancock all took a stance to help secure our freedom. And when they were needed again, they came to help institute a brave new government based on many of the principles of their organization. Throughout the next two centuries, freemasons helped fight for, establish and govern the United States, thereby shaping American History. Because of their involvement from inception to present day, Masonic Special Libraries have become a treasure trove of U.S. History. Over the years they have worked hard to collect, catalog and preserve their knowledge and artifacts. Various Grand Lodges and governing Masonic bodies established both libraries and museums to bring their collections to the public. Three wonderful examples are The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library of Grand Lodge of the State of New York, The Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, and The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania. Exploring their particular histories, types of collections and catalogs, and how access is given to those who want to do research in these Special Libraries will help highlight the potential of these libraries.
These three repositories, The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library of Grand Lodge of the State of New York, The Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, and The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania, each hold broad collections and can be used in a large variety of research. Not only do these three Special Libraries offer extensive information on Freemasons and their history, but given the involvement of Freemasons in this nation’s foundation, they are also a great source of material for American History research. Unfortunately, Masonic institutions are too often overlooked as research facilities for these topics. Luckily, there is an effort to help make their collections more accessible to the general public through promotions, exhibits, and online access. Hopefully in the future these Masonic Libraries won’t be forgotten.
About the Livingston Masonic Library. (n.d.). In The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library of Grand Lodge. Retrieved April 25, 2011, from http://www.nymasoniclibrary.org/library/index.htm
Boyden, W. L. (1915). Classification of the literature of freemasonry and related societies. In Google Books. Retrieved April 25, 2011, from http://books.google.com/books?id=DvwYAAAAMAAJ&ots=WUNsqpxPfU&dq=boyden%20classification&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false
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History of the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives. (n.d.). In National Heritage Museum. Retrieved April 25, 2011, from http://www.monh.org/Default.aspx?tabid=238
Mini crash-Course in Librarian and Curatorship . (2011, January). In Masonic Library & Museum Association. Retrieved April 25, 2011, from http://www.masoniclibraries.org/minicrashcourse.php
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The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania. (n.d.). In Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania . Retrieved April 25, 2011, from
William L. Boyden, A Dewey Decimal System for Masonic Libraries. (2010, December 10). In National Heritage Museum. Retrieved April 25, 2011, from http://nationalheritagemuseum.typepad.com/library_and_archives/william-l-boyden/