Phillips Library

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Phillips Library

  • The Peabody Essex Museum's Phillips Library is on of the New England's major research libraries.
  • The earliest formal recognition of a library was with the East India Marine Society, founded in 1799.
  • In 1867, the EIMS became the Peabody Academy of Science. Among its formal governing principles was the establishment of “a working library”.
  • By 1915, it became apparent that the PAS had matured from its roots as an academy devoted to science into a museum with broader collecting interests and cultural commitments, thus prompting a name change to the Peabody Museum of Salem. A new corporate seal was adopted depicting the museum's three areas of interest - ethnology, natural history, and maritime history. It was soon recognized that expanded library space was greatly needed and the Stephen Phillips Library was constructed in Plummer Hall (1857) with funds from Stephen Phillips; the reading room was named for the Saltonstall family.
  • On a parallel track, in 1821, the Essex Historical Society was established “to collect and preserve all authentic memorials relating to the civil history of the county of Essex, and the eminent men who have been inhabitants of it from its first settlement, as well as all facts relating to its natural history and topography.” This was followed in 1836 with the formation of a related but different organization, the Essex County Natural History Society. ECNHS operated in modest obscurity until 1848 when it merged with the Essex Historical Society; the new entity took the name “Essex Institute,” combining both museum and library collections. Over the next 20 years, the library collection grew to approximately 50,000 bound volumes.
  • In 1992, the Peabody Museum merged with the Essex Institute, combining their respective libraries to form what we now know as the Phillips Library.
  • The collections of the Phillips Library consist of manuscripts, books, pamphlets, maps, charts, photographs and documents created for personal, business, legal, artistic, didactic and scholarly use.
  • In 2011, the library's collection and staff had moved to an industrial building in Peabody, with plans to move back in a few years. This temporary home has been closed since Sept. 2017. The plan now is to move the collection permanently to a facility in Rowley. There has been some controversy about this move.
  • In mid-June 2018, the Peabody Essex Museum opened its new collection center, with the Phillips library included in the 120,000 -square -foot collection center. The new library facility will also have a conservation Lab, Collection Studio, staff offices and a reading room. To search their catalog, use this link:
  • PhilCat catalog Phil Cat

See Also

"Historic library will be restored; reading room project is first part of $75 million expansion plan" Salem Evening News, May 2, 1997, p A1

"Museum is subverting Salem's design review process" Salem Evening News, Dec. 21, 1999, p. B5

"Access a concern after library hours cut" Boston Sunday Globe, Mar. 28, 2004, p. N1

"Salem Museum urged to rethink library cuts" Boston Globe, Apr. 15, 2004, p. N3

"Change; a difficult necessity for Salem's Phillip's Library" Salem News, Feb. 2, 2005, p. B3

"PEM's Phillips Library to get $10 million renovation" Salem News, Sept, 27, 2011, p. 1

"Bulk of Phillips Library collection won't return to Salem" Salem News, Dec. 8, 2017,

"Stewarding PEM's Phillips Library collection" Salem News, Dec. 12, 2017, p. 7

"Public access lacking; historians say wealth of records trapped in shuttered library" Salem News, Dec. 19, 2017, p. 1

"Museum, advocates spar over library's future" Salem News, Dec. 26, 2017, p. 1

"Peabody Essex Museum opens Rowley library center" Salem Gazette, June 22, 2018, p. A1

"AG reviewing Phillips Library move" Salem News, July 12, 2019, p.1