Browse the Shelves of The Insurance Library, Embrace Industry’s Unique History
The Insurance Library celebrates its special role as a centralizing hub for the insurance industry and risk management.
- Kim Bjorheim
- October 2021
The Insurance Library
The Insurance Library in Boston is located just a short distance from Faneuil Hall in what was formerly a thriving insurance business district. Since its inception in 1887 by the New England Insurance Exchange, the library has been a resource for the insurance and risk management community. Initially, the library’s focus was regional, but over time its scope expanded and it has become a national resource for both the insurance industry and the public.
Paul Tetrault, executive director of The Insurance Library, sits in a Lloyd’s underwriting box that had been used at the underwriting floor of Lloyd’s of London. The Insurance Library is home to a large collection of insurance-related items and publications, including books, periodicals, journals and databases. It also offers professional licensing courses and webinars and hosts various events. “The library serves a very unique role in being a centralizing hub for the insurance industry and risk management, and we serve the community at large,” Tetrault said. When author Benjamin Wiggins worked on his 2020 book, Calculating Race–Racial Discrimination and Risk Assessment, he turned to The Insurance Library for much of his research. The library also receives frequent research requests from attorneys, policy makers, scholars and students. “You may go months to years without needing to use us for research purposes, but when the situation arises, you’re glad we’re here,” Tetrault said.
Research Librarian Meagan Stefanow studies an issue of Mass. Insurance Reports, one of the library’s historic resources often used in research requests. Attorneys are among the predominant users of information from the library, according to Stefanow, and some of the common requests include company tracing of defunct or renamed companies and policy research. By consulting various historic resources, Stefanow said that they can recreate what would be a typical policy from a given time period. This type of research can be a critical component when settling claims where the original policy documents may no longer be available. “If you’re trying to determine if an entity had or did not have coverage for a particular occurrence, then that is the type of information that you would need,” Stefanow said. While some of this information may be available in electronic databases, Stefanow explained that courts often prefer copies of the original publications instead. “A lot of folks think that you can simply Google things and find them, but there’s still a great deal of information that we have that you can’t get anywhere else and that simply isn’t available in an electronic format,” Stefanow said.
Research Librarian Sarah Hart holds up a compact makeup mirror, part of the library’s collection of such mirrors that were common advertising items for insurance companies. “A lot of our collection has been donated to the library over the years. We always welcome new books to the collection, new pieces of marketing or policies,” Hart said. Some of these donated materials can be valuable resources when conducting research. The Red Book Kirschner’s Insurance Directories, for example, are an especially important tool when researching long-tail claims. Using a combination of these and other resources, such as Best’s Insurance Reports or Best’s Key Rating Guide, Hart and her colleagues often are able to narrow down and provide details on who an insured might have had a policy with. “You might have a pollution claim that you don’t find out about until 20, 30, 50 years later, and you’re trying to figure out who would be responsible for helping cover that claim,” Hart said. The historic resources the library provides are, according to Hart, not only important when researching old policies or companies, but also an important component for innovation and the future of the industry. “I think one of the things that would be different if libraries like this didn’t exist is you would lose the history. You wouldn’t see why certain classes developed the way they did. You would not understand why a homeowners policy is such an incredible innovation,” she said. “That’s important for innovation in the future as well. When you’re looking to what do you need to change, or what do you need to do in the future, it’s important to know that past.”
These early issues of Best’s Life Reports represent a small sample of the AM Best materials found at the insurance library. The library has had a long relationship with AM Best and the collection includes publications dating from 1900 to present day, including The AM Best Business Trilogy, a three-book series that explores how AM Best and its founder, Alfred M. Best, influenced the creation of the credit rating industry and its ongoing evolution. Tetrault said he is excited to have the trilogy at the library. “It’s a fantastic addition to the literature of insurance, to have documented what has become such an important part of the insurance ecosystem,” he said.
Research Librarian Meagan Stefanow holds up a Sanborn map. The Insurance Library is home to a large collection of such maps that encompass most of the New England states. These fire insurance maps detail building locations and building materials, and while they have not been updated since the 1960s, they are still used for several purposes today. “Very often in Boston, we’ll get surveyors coming in, especially with townhouses, wanting to know, perhaps, if there is a brick wall between two units. That can’t be easily determined without tearing down some Sheetrock, so it’s much easier to come in and take a look at one of these maps,” Stefanow said.