Fine Arts Department

Washington Room, Second Floor, McKim Building, Central Library
Contact via 617-536-5400

Please visit our hours page for current Fine Arts Department hours.

Please note the Central Library in Copley Square’s Arts Department has new hours, and is now open on the following schedule: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 1 to 5 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday, 1 to 7 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed on Sundays.

You can now request materials in our Fine Arts and Music research collections online from home and you will be notified through the catalog when they are ready to be picked up! Search for books using our online catalog, and place a request using your library card. Make sure to designate the pick-up location as Delivery Desk! As soon as the book has been retrieved and brought to the desk you will receive an alert. This could be anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours. Occasionally, if a book needs a barcode or additional work it could take up to 72 hours to be made available. You can also e-mail the Arts department and ask them to request the books for you. All of this can be done ahead of time before you arrive at the library. Please note, these same procedures are in place if you come directly into the library. We are not able to pull material in the Arts stacks on demand any longer.

Other Arts materials, specifically archival collections, books published before 1800, and some rare or fragile music items are not available for viewing at this time. Requestable material can be pulled in advance of your visit to the library - please contact an Arts staff member for further assistance. You will need a BPL card in order to request items from the collection. More information on how to get a card can be found here:


Art history, Architecture, Painting, Sculpture, Drawing, Design, Illustration, Decorative arts and antiques.


The Fine Arts Collection is a non-circulating research resource of more than 125,000 titles (not including bound periodicals, multiple-volume works and unbound catalogs). The Fine Arts Department is also responsible for servicing special collections that document art, architecture and the decorative arts with special focus on Boston and New England.

The circulating collection of fine arts books may be found on the second floor of the General Library in the Johnson building. Unlike many research collections of comparable size or depth in museums or academic institutions, the Fine Arts Collection is not defined by the demands of specific curricula or by the research needs of the staff of a parent organization or its special clientele.

Rather, as a research collection within a public library, the Fine Arts Department follows broad objectives in acquisitions, collecting as comprehensively as possible the materials necessary for the study of all facets of art and art history, architecture and its history, the decorative arts and crafts of all countries and periods.

The collection includes works of biography, criticism, history and philosophy of art, art education, manuals on technique, journals and patternbooks, major studies of artists and periods, catalogues raisonnes, oeuvres catalogues, collectors' manuals and many valuable early imprints, as well as major art indexes and abstracts, encyclopedias, dictionaries, bibliographies and auction records.

The Library receives on standing order basis new publications from 400 American publishers, including virtually all university presses, and from approximately 30 foreign countries. The Fine Arts staff does extensive bibliographic searching and ordering of additional materials from foreign national bibliographies, publishers' trade publications, and rare book dealers. Approximately 1,700-2,000 titles are added each year.

The Department receives approximately 270 periodical titles but it should be noted that the Library subscribes to a great many art- and architecture- related journals on photography, graphic arts, archaeology, costume, crafts, industrial and interior design which do not classify on "N" in the Library of Congress classification scheme, and therefore are not held in the Fine Arts Department.

Titles in the Fine Arts Collection are listed in the Library's Research Library catalog but that catalog in its online version only reflects cataloging since 1974. Materials acquired and processed before 1974 are listed in the microfiche version of the Boston Public Library Research Library Catalog.

Special Collections and Indexes:

Art in the Boston Public Library is a card index by artist, subject and title, to the paintings, sculptures and decorative art in the library's collection. Information relating to medium, size, date of execution, date of presentation to the BPL, donor, location, as well as a listing of references to other sources, is often provided.

The Boston Architecture Reference File is a card index of references to written descriptions, critiques, histories, illustrations, renderings and plans of Boston buildings and their architects. Most references are to published sources, although they may refer to original photographs, architectural drawings and other unpublished materials in the collections of this and other libraries.

The Boston Picture File consists of mounted and unmounted photographs and clippings about Boston buildings, parks, monuments, streets, etc. Material in this file has been indexed in the Boston Architecture Reference File. A postcard collection of c. 1,500 items depicting Boston buildings is also part of this pictorial archive.

The Boston Art Archives/New England Art Information File was begun in 1885 as a vertical file of ephemera on Boston artists. Over the years it has expanded in coverage of New England artists, as well as contemporary artists across the country who are not adequately covered in reference sources. Types of materials included in this file are: exhibition announcements, calendars of events, gallery/organization newsletters, press releases, reviews of exhibitions, checklists and small exhibition catalogs, obituaries, illustrations, gallery histories, bibliographies on artists, and miscellaneous biographical information. This index has also absorbed the exhibition record of individual artists at shows of the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, the Boston Society of Independent Artists, and the Boston Art Club.

The Archives of American Art Microfilm Collection has been on deposit at the Boston Public Library since 1994 and is updated with a copy of each new microfilm roll produced by the Archives.