Reference response time
Our response time for reference questions varies. Checking a simple fact usually means a fast answer; checking more obscure or unique information may take weeks or months. If we cannot answer promptly, we will notify you that you are in our queue.
The Boston Public Library's primary responsibility is to the residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Reference requests received from residents of Boston and Massachusetts are placed ahead of non-Massachusetts patrons in the queue waiting for answers.
We wish to assist you with your information needs. However, if you live outside Massachusetts, we ask you to obtain information from your local libraries and resources whenever possible.
Examples of well-constructed questions:
- "Who was mayor of Boston on August 15, 1886?"
- “Who wrote ‘Tessie’ for the Dropkick Murphys?”
- "Is there a city or telephone directory listing for George Sullivan in Dorchester in 1952?"
- "Is the Schrafft candy company still in existence? If not, when did it close?"
- "Do you have an original edition of the Bay Psalm book?"
- "What was the Molasses Flood?"
Examples of questions that need more work:
Please be specific and detailed in your request. Questions that begin with "I need some information about..." are probably too broad and too vague for a good answer.
- "I want a copy of a death notice for my Great Grandmother Mary Smith who died in Boston in 1916."
- We need to have a specific day, month and year to check local newspapers for this kind of information.
- Note: The BPL cannot conduct your genealogical research, but we have identified many resources to help you in your search.
- “I am writing a paper on Brazilian immigrants and their culture in the US, can you look that up for me?”
- This is a very broad topic with many possible answers. If you're working on a research project for school or a community program, we recommend you work with your local librarians to learn how to research this kind of topic.
- If you are looking for specific data about Brazilian communities in Boston and Massachusetts, use our reference question form to submit a detailed question. Including information about the dates, towns or neighborhoods, and other demographic criteria helps us get you the information you need.
- Try searching our online newspaper resources for information about local cultural events and news.
- "Can you send me some information about the whaling industry?"
- We recommend starting with an online resource like Wikipedia or using a search engine to identify sources of information. Follow citations listed in such sources to narrow the focus of your quest.
- Our online history resources have a wide variety of articles about US and world history. Search these for additional historical whaling information.
- If you have a question about a specific ship or person that had some link to Boston or Massachusetts, please use the reference question form.
- "What are some interesting facts about Boston?"
- Too many to list! If you've discovered a particular fact about Boston and want to know if it's true, we can confirm that and get you more information. You may also visit the City of Boston visitors page for more information.