The Boston Public Library Completes $15.7M Renovation of Special Collections Department

BPL finishes 31,000 square foot renovation with state-of-the-art improvements; welcomes public back to explore the library’s treasured collections

BOSTON – SEPTEMBER 13, 2022 – The Boston Public Library today announced the reopening of the Central Library’s Special Collections Department following the completion of a $15.7 million City-funded renovation. The library’s extraordinary collections will be available for in-person use once again starting today, September 13th. Mayor Michelle Wu, alongside library and city officials, marked the occasion with a reopening ceremony in the newly completed public space. 

“We are so lucky to have historic books and manuscripts on display at the Boston Public Library, and with that comes a responsibility to take care of these works and make them easily accessible,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “I’m thankful to the BPL and all who made restoration of the Special Collections possible for future generations of Boston residents to enjoy.” 

The renovation of the Special Collections department, located at the Central Library in Copley Square, was a five-year project made possible by a $15.7 million capital investment from the City of Boston. It was a collaboration between the Boston Public Library, the City of Boston’s Public Facilities Department, and Finegold Alexander Architects. The 31,000 square foot renovation includes improvements to public spaces, including a new reading room and lobby; upgraded collections storage for rare books and manuscript collections totaling nearly 7 miles of specialized shelving; new staff workspaces; and a state-of-the-art conservation lab and fire suppression system. The improvements will ensure the long-term preservation of – and continued public access to – the library’s exceptional and historic collections. The new space was designed to support a welcoming, user-centered service model, encouraging patrons to visit and engage with the storied collection.  

“Thank you to the City of Boston for making this incredible renovation possible,” said BPL President David Leonard. “The BPL can once again provide full service to our Special Collections’ treasures and continue stewarding the Rare Books and Manuscripts collections in our newly renovated world-class space, accessible to all, both in-person and online. The historic items in this collection belong to the people of our city, and we look forward to sharing them with our community and the world.” 

The BPL’s Special Collections include rare books, manuscripts, prints, archives, music, fine arts, and photography. Notable items from the collection include a copy of William Shakespeare’s First Folio; Robert McCloskey’s sketchbooks, including his preliminary drawings for Make Way for Ducklings; four original printings of the Declaration of Independence; the complete run of the abolitionist paper The Liberator; 350 works by famed artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec; the Robert Aitken Bible, the first complete English-language Bible printed in America; and much more.   

“We are thrilled to welcome visitors into the newly renovated Special Collections spaces,” said Beth Prindle, BPL’s Head of Special Collections. “As one of only two public members of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the BPL has a particular responsibility to providing the broadest possible access to these rare, distinctive, and culturally significant materials. Our collections are available for the study and enjoyment of everyone. As it says on the side of the McKim building, we are dedicated to making these treasured items ‘Free to All.’” 

The Special Collections renovation was spurred by the deteriorating state of the former Rare Books & Manuscripts public spaces and collection storage facilities in the library’s 1972 Boylston Street building. During construction, the Rare Books & Manuscripts collection was relocated off-site and stored securely for more than 4 years while the spaces were under renovation. While in-person service was closed during the renovation, BPL staff significantly improved the public’s ability to access and explore these collections through major cataloging and digitization efforts. The library has also hired numerous new specialized staff members to bring additional expertise and stewardship capacity in Archives, Arts, Rare Books, and Conservation.  

Patrons looking to visit and engage with items in the collection can create a reading room account at and use the request page to request materials at their preferred date and time. Visitors are also welcome to view a selection of objects on display in the Special Collections Lobby.  

To learn more about the Boston Public Library’s Special Collections, visit