Westborough Center for History and Culture explores town’s past, documents the present for future generations

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By Brett Peruzzi, Contributing Writer

Anthony Vaver is the local history librarian for the Westborough Center for History and Culture, a department of the Westborough Public Library.

Westborough – Anthony Vaver, local history librarian for the Westborough Center for History and Culture, a department of the Westborough Public Library, originally planned to become a professor after he obtained his Ph.D. in English literature. But lack of jobs led him to become a librarian, a profession in which he could pursue his interest in the relationship between culture and history.

“People often confuse me for being the town historian, but I am really a librarian,” said Vaver. “My job is to direct people to resources that can help answer their questions about Westborough and its history.” When Vaver joined the library in 2015, he inherited the “Westborough Room,” which housed the library’s local history collection.

“I felt like the name of the room was too generic and did not adequately describe what I saw as the potential for its collections and what they represent to our community,” he recalled.

“We introduced the new name to the local history program beginning in 2017. We chose ‘Center’ to indicate that the local history room is a welcoming place where people can explore where they live in a variety of ways, and then share what they learn with other members of our community,” Vaver explained. “Our valuable historical records form the core of the program’s holdings, so ‘History’ was an obvious addition. But we also added ‘Culture’ so that we could develop programming that both fosters a more self-conscious understanding of who we are today, and creates collecting opportunities for the archive so that we can document our present for the future.”

A tax bill signed by Revolutionary War patriot Sam Adams is one of the many notable historic documents in the center’s collection.

The Westborough Center houses an archive of historical town records, but it also helps residents create, share, and collect the stories, memories and culture of the town today, which will be of interest to history tomorrow, according to Vaver.

“By documenting and collecting important elements of our present that represent who we are, what we do, and why we do them,” he affirmed, “we can help future residents and historians better understand how the decisions we make and the lives we lead today affect them.”

With library access and services currently limited due to the pandemic, the center is closed, but Vaver is still hard at work.

“I have been so busy creating online content and ways for people to submit digital content directly to the Westborough Center,” he said. “In the spirit of believing at the beginning of this crisis that people would be bored out of their minds while being stuck at home, I started a weekly newsletter posted to the Westborough Center’s blog called ‘Westborough History Pastimes.’”

Maureen Amyot is one of the Westborough residents who has submitted a face mask selfie for the center’s digital archive.

The center has also campaigned for residents to submit “selfie” photos of themselves wearing face masks.

“What took me by surprise is how interesting these selfies turned out to be,” said Vaver. “In addition to submitting a selfie, I also ask people to describe what it is like to wear a face mask and how it felt when they first put one on. What is fascinating is that even though people’s faces are half-covered, their personalities come shining through in their photographs.”

Westborough residents can contribute to this collection at:

https://westboroughdigitalrepository.omeka.net/contribution

by selecting “Face Mask Selfie” from the drop-down menu.

Vaver is documenting the pandemic in other ways as well.

“A friend in town started offering to make face masks for people she knew, so I asked her to make one for me so that I could put it in our archive,” he explained. “The Westborough Historical Society and I collaborated on a project asking people to write about their experiences during this time, so those will also go into a collection devoted to this pandemic.”

Even with the center closed, Vaver emphasizes that there is plenty of content online for people to explore at www.WestboroughCenter.org and www.WestboroughArchive.org.

“We also work closely with the Digital Commonwealth, which offers free digitization services to libraries across Massachusetts,” said Vaver. “They digitized our historical town records after I organized them, and more recently our official town records from 1717 up to 1930. We have also digitized all of the microfilm for our historical newspapers going back to 1849, which has vastly improved access to this rich content of Westborough history.”

Vaver ended his explanation of the center on a philosophical note.

“In many ways, I see the entire town of Westborough as having a role to play in the Westborough Center,” he said. “Our town’s history belongs to all of us, so I am interested in creating a platform where people can freely explore this history and be involved in its caretaking. As residents, we are also creating history by virtue of the fact that we are living in Westborough.”

Photos/submitted