Policies and Use

Rare Books Department

3rd Floor, McKim Building, Central Library


Purpose of the Department

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Department serves as the Boston Public Library's principal repository of rare books, manuscripts and historical artifacts of permanent or enduring value collected for their intellectual content and historical significance. The primary mission of the department and its staff is to preserve and create access to these collections through collection development, cataloging, reference services, interpretive programs and exhibitions, and conservation, in order to make them accessible to the scholarly community and the general public.

Use of the Department

In general, the Rare Books Department is open to any those whose research justifies the use of material from the collection. Students undertaking exercises in the techniques of research should not expect to use rare book materials. An appointment is advisable for all users and visitors in that it enables us to prepare material in advance for viewing. Special viewings, class visits and group tours can be arranged in advance.

Reading privileges are granted subject to the following rules:

  • Readers are required to fill out a Department registration form before entering the Reading Room. All users must have a Boston Public Library card or a courtesy card and a valid picture ID. Additional identification may be required, such as a driver's license, university or business identification card, a letter of introduction from a university or a research library, etc.
  • Materials are to be used only in the Reading Room.
  • All coats, bags, books, notebooks, and other personal items must be checked with the receptionist.
  • The following items are permitted in the Rare Books Department reading room:
    • Pencils
    • Laptops, cameras, and electronic accessories removed from their cases
    • Loose sheets of paper and notecards, though they must be kept to an absolute minimum and are subject to inspection by staff
  • Any materials brought into the reading room are subject to inspection. Patrons may be asked to open laptops, present loose papers for inspection, etc.
  • Food, drink, and chewing gum are not permitted.
  • Children under the age of 10 are not permitted in the reading room. Children age 10 to 15 may enter the reading room if they are accompanied by a responsible adult, but are not permitted to handle collections materials.
  • A separate call slip must be completed for each item requested.
  • All material must be returned to the librarian before leaving the Reading Room.
  • Tracing of maps or illustrations is not allowed.
  • The original order of manuscript material must be maintained.

Tours, Talks, and Interpretation

Rare Books Department staff members can provide reference and research services intended to aid users in the selection and examination of materials. Staff members are unable to offer guided tours, interpretation of collections, or structured presentations for visitors.

New England Regional Fellowship Consortium

The Boston Public Library is a member of the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium, a collaboration of 21 major cultural agencies that offers at least 15 awards annually. Each grant will provide a stipend of $5,000 for a minimum of eight weeks of research at participating institutions. Awards are open to U.S. citizens and foreign nationals who hold the necessary U.S. government documents. Grants are designed to encourage projects that draw on the resources of several agencies.

For more information: http://www.masshist.org/fellowships/nerfc/index.php


Please see our hours page for current Rare Books department hours.


The Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts is located in the third floor of the Research Library. The entrance door opens to the Koussevitzky Room, named in memory of the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1924 to 1949, and frequent exhibit site for his memorabilia.

To the left in the Koussevitzky Room is the Piston Room, established in honor of American composer Walter Piston and containing his library and desk.

At the rear of the Koussevitzky Room stand two rooms, one in which the Dwiggins marionettes are exhibited, and the other housing Dwiggins' stage and other theatrical instruments.

To the left is the exhibit room, surrounded by wall cases, and providing access to the Dwiggins' studio on the right.The exhibit room serves as display center for various treasures in the collection. Here, also, is the readers's registration desk.

In the reading room beyond, a quiet area ideal for research, are the catalogs. A librarian is always in attendance in the reading room to provide assistance.