Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library is a pioneer of public library service in America. It was the first large free municipal library in the United States, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room. As a City of Boston historic cultural institution, Boston Public Library today features a central library and twenty-five neighborhood branches, serving nearly 4 million visitors per year and millions more online. Boston Public Library is a department of the City of Boston, under the leadership of Mayor Michelle Wu.
The mission of the Library is focused on four core areas: reading and literacy, spaces and programs, reference and instruction, and special collections and cultural heritage. Our commitment to be ‘Free to All’ is carved into the façade of the Central Library in Copley Square, and we are proud to welcome everyone equally regardless of gender, race, national origin, sexual orientation, faith, or economic status.
The Central Library in Copley Square encompasses two buildings, both landmarks. The historic McKim building, designed by architect Charles Follen McKim and opened in 1895, houses the Library’s distinguished research and special collections. Known for its classical serenity and elegance, it features historical artwork by Daniel Chester French, John Singer Sargent, and more, as well as the magnificent Bates Hall reading room. The Boylston Street Building (formerly called the Johnson Building), designed by Philip Johnson and opened in 1972, underwent an award-winning renovation by William Rawn Associates, Architects, Inc. reopening in 2016. The transformed 21st century library space features a broadcast studio and innovation center.
The Library’s twenty-five branches are spread across the city, and each location is a civic hub offering WiFi, citizenship information, computer access, and collections. Young people of all ages participate in storytimes, sing-alongs, technology classes, arts and crafts, homework help, and annual themed summer reading events. Adults can participate in everything from yoga to ESL and book club groups. Ongoing renovations and facility upgrades across the system are transforming and modernizing these beloved community gathering centers.
Boston Public Library holds more than 23 million items, estimated to be among the three largest collections in the country, including books, maps, manuscripts, letters, drawings, and other original works dating back as early as the 10th century. Notable items include first edition folios by William Shakespeare, original music scores from Mozart to Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf;" and the personal library of President John Adams. The Library continues to make its impressive special collections accessible to the public through a robust digitization program, all available online at Digital Commonwealth. Our circulating collection of 1.6 million items includes books, DVDs, and audiobooks, as well as downloadable e-books, audiobooks, and magazines, and streaming media.
At the Boston Public Library, books are just the beginning.