Shelby Allen on the job giving a tour of the Boston Public Library; photo credit: Madisen Armstrong

Shelby Allen on the job giving a tour of the Boston Public Library; photo credit: Madisen Armstrong

Shelby Allen: A Local's Insight into the Ever-changing Back Bay Community

By: Madisen Armstrong

At first glance, Shelby Allen may come across as your everyday, average woman living in Boston, Massachusetts. With her petite frame, wide rimmed glasses, and pursed lips, she’s reminiscent of  your typical Massachusetts grandmother. Her presence is comforting, reassuring almost. With almost every person that passes by her she gives them a warm smile and asks how their day is going. She is inquisitive and wise, she asks questions that go past small talk and gives responses that are carefully thought out and insightful. Because of the maternal aura that she gives off, it’s easy to dismiss her as any other friendly person someone may just run into and have a nice conversation with. However, Shelby Allen is so much more than your typical sweet woman who asks you about your day. If you’re lucky enough to have a longer conversation with Allen, her sharp wit and wild hand motions start to come out, demanding attention from everyone in the room. Her larger-than-life personality is simply perfect for her volunteer job as a tour guide for the Boston Public Library, a job she took to come out of retirement and to be involved with the community she loves so much.

As a resident of the Back Bay community for over 40 years and as a resident of Massachusetts her entire life, Shelby Allen is truly a local of Boston. Shelby Allen represents a figure in her community that is needed in every neighborhood. She is proud of where she lives; she is proud of her neighborhood’s history and of what her neighborhood has evolved into. For Allen, Back Bay represents a thriving community with a rich cultural background that can be found in the heartbeat of the neighborhood, the Boston Public Library. Within the previous four decades she has lived in the Back Bay, she has not only watched the Boston community evolve and change with its modern architecture, but she has also witnessed the presence of art flourish and expand into something that simply didn’t exist when she first moved to the area.

 

You know the presence of the arts community was practically nonexistent when I first moved to the Back Bay. Keep in mind that those were different times then- art just wasn’t that important. People were simply focused on other things, it’s a whole other world now. I would say the city of Boston, and the people who live here- well the younger ones, started to care more about art and started to bring it into the community like 20 or 30 years ago.
— Shelby Allen

Despite the lack of arts in the Back Bay community when she first moved to the neighborhood, Allen found her own ways to surround herself with the arts. In addition to her passion for history, Allen possesses an artistic side that’s carried with her her entire life.

Oh yeah, I’ve always loved art so much! And all different kinds of it too not just the same sort of thing. I was a theatre major in college, and I danced when I was a young girl, and I’ve been painting for a few decades now. One of the reasons I work for the Boston Public Library now is because I get to volunteer to talk about the art in here a few times a month. I just love it. Not so bad for an old gal like me, huh?
— Shelby Allen

When Allen isn’t making some form of art on her own, she’s admiring it or learning about it. Shelby Allen first got her job working as a tour guide for the Boston Public Library when admiring a sculpture in the courtyard of the BPL. 

Before getting the job at the library, I used to come to the courtyard multiple times a week just to read and look at the surroundings. I love art of course but I’m an avid reader too. I would always come with my tea, some kind of sandwich, and a book and sit here for a few hours. One day, a woman came up to me when I was in the courtyard looking at the statue, and I had no idea what she wanted you know, but we struck up a conversation and she told me about being a volunteer tour guide and I was intrigued. This woman was a tour guide herself so I trusted her when she said she loved it. Not to mention I had been in love with the library for years at that point so I figured I just had to say yes. To this day I’m so happy we had that conversation because I get to do a job that I love.
— Shelby Allen

When asked why she loves being a tour guide at the Boston Public Library, Allen chuckled.

Are you kidding? Who wouldn’t love a job like this one! Sure I don’t get paid, this is a volunteer type thing, but hey I’m reitred and I get to meet people from all over the world and get to talk about some of the things I love most, art and this library. This library was here for me when other things weren’t and I’m honored I get to do what I can to represent it well. Or at least, to try to represent it as best as I can. I’d like to think I’m doing an okay job so far- I may be old but I’m not senile yet!
— Shelby Allen

 If one thing's for certain, Allen isn't going to stop being a tour guide anytime soon. Her love for the library and passion for teaching others about the art and history of the library is simply too large. It is through Allen that people from all over the world and locals alike can marvel at the Boston Public Library. She is a storyteller that brings art and culture to not only her community, but to those who live outside of Boston who can take a little piece of the art and culture of Back Bay with them after a tour of the museum with Shelby Allen. 

If you are interested in taking a tour of the Central Boston Public Library in Back Bay with Shelby or with another tour guide you can find information here