Press Room

Boston Public Library Unveils Collections of Distinction

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First 18 collections include American, European, and New England historical treasures  collection_distinction2013

Boston Public Library unveiled its initial Collections of Distinction this week, a group of eighteen collections that represent the most outstanding, expansive, and renowned of its holdings of more than 23 million items. The collections include Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts, Maritime Charts and Atlases, and American Civil War 20th Massachusetts Regiment materials as well as holdings related to Shakespeare, John Adams, and William A. Dwiggins. Within the collections is an array of books, maps, manuscripts, letters, drawings, and other original works dating back as early as the 10th century.

“It is our great privilege to house, preserve, and share these unique collections that are at the heart of what makes Boston Public Library a dynamic research institution,” said Amy E. Ryan, President of the Boston Public Library. “Libraries are centers of knowledge, ideas, and opportunity. We encourage and invite the residents of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to engage with these treasures and celebrate the cultural heritage they contain.”

To highlight the initial eighteen collections, Boston Public Library launched a new section on its website,, with detailed descriptions, images, and links to resources related to the Collections of Distinction.

Boston Public Library is one of the five largest research libraries in the United States and its collections are internationally recognized as preeminent among other libraries and cultural institutions. One of the guiding principles in Boston Public Library’s community-informed strategic plan, the BPL Compass, is dedicated to special collections.

A group of the library’s most highly trained subject experts, together with members of the library’s Special Collections Committee, established the criteria for the Collections of Distinction and identified the first eighteen collections to receive this special designation.

“Bringing these collections together and to light is a tremendous step forward not only for our organization, but for the communities of learners that Boston Public Library serves,” said Jeffrey B. Rudman, Chairman of the library’s Board of Trustees. “These are deep and rich intellectual resources. It is our duty to make them accessible and available to all. We are grateful to the curators, keepers, and digitizers of these collections who work so carefully to maintain the collections’ historical integrity for future generations and identify new ways to share them with the world.”

Boston Public Library Collections of Distinction are identified based on the following criteria:

  •     unique, rare, and/or intrinsically valuable
  •     pre-eminent among libraries and cultural institutions
  •     historical significance that reflects the long term BPL commitment to the collection, buttressed by the past and current generosity of individuals
  •     central to the history of the City of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the communities therein
  •     resonates with communities of scholars and makes the BPL the destination for scholarship in a particular subject
  •     universality of subject matter and furthers the purpose of the BPL by contributing to a democratic education.

The full list of eighteen Collections of Distinction includes: American Civil War 20th Massachusetts Regiment, American Revolutionary War Era Maps, Anti-slavery, Boston and New England Maps, Boston Theater, Colonial and Revolutionary Boston, Dwiggins and Graphic Design, Fine and Historic Bookbindings, Incunabula, Irish History and Culture, John Adams Library, Local and Family History, Maritime Charts and Atlases, Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts, Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee, Shakespeare, Spanish and Portuguese Literature, and Urban Maps.

Boston Public Library gives priority to Collections of Distinction in terms of access, acquisition, digitization, and preservation; and will continue to identify additional candidates for Collections of Distinction status.

Boston Public Library has a Central Library, twenty-five branches, a literacy center, map center, business library, and a website filled with digital content and services. Established in 1848, Boston Public Library has pioneered public library service in America. It was the first publicly supported municipal library in America, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room. Each year, the Boston Public Library hosts thousands of programs and serves millions of people. All of its programs and exhibitions are free and open to the public. At Boston Public Library, books are just the beginning. To learn more, visit

Featured image is from the Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts collection.
Psalterium cum Antiphonis. Piacenza, Italy, ca. 1495. Illumination on vellum.
More images are available.




Prepared by the Boston Public Library’s Communications Office. | 617.859.2319