Central Library: Research Services

Washington Room, McKim Building, second floor

Research Services staff can assist you with finding collections for your use, whether for the casual learner, for formal education support, or for scholarly research. Information about the community, how to plan a vacation, or genealogical research into your family tree are all areas with which the Research Services staff can help. View this guide to help you get started researching.

For the best service, e-mail the library at ask@bpl.org in advance of your visit. This will allow the staff to prepare for your arrival, whether collections need to be retrieved from closed stacks, or online research is needed before assisting you. Have an in-depth research question you'd like help with? Book a librarian appointment.

The BPL has extensive research collections available for use within the Library, including newspapers and magazines on microfilm, and government documents. Digitized prints and documents are also available through our online repository,  Digital Commonwealth, and we have many online research guides, opens a new window to assist users remotely.

For research related to our special collections, please head over to our Special Collections page to find more detailed information on our collections and how to request items to view.

Maps, atlases, and other cartographic materials are located at the Leventhal Map & Education Center, located in the Central Library in Copley Square. Research services are available at the Center on weekdays and by special appointment.

Researching at the Library FAQ

  • In-Library Use Only Materials
    You can access materials found via the online catalog marked In-Library Use Only by coming to the Delivery Desk at the Central Library in Copley Square at least twenty-five minutes before closing. Some materials are stored offsite and may not be available right away.

    Other Materials

    Much of our research collections, particularly those older than 1974, are not represented in our online catalog. Please consult our special collections index to find contact information for requesting access to individual collections, or get in touch with our Research Services librarians via ask@bpl.org for help or to have materials pulled for you in advance of your visit.

  • Online
    Fill out our contact form or email us at ask@bpl.org. Our librarians will be in touch over email within twenty-four hours. Depending on your needs, we might recommend a phone call or visit when we get back to you. If your research need is complex, please indicate in the form that you would like to schedule an appointment to discuss your research needs.

    We have librarians on-call to help you with research and reference from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. You can reach us at 617.536.5400.

    There is a librarian on duty at all BPL locations who can help you with research. More intensive research help is available at the Central Library in Copley Square in Bates Hall.

    Book a Librarian
    You can also book a 30 minute appointment with a research librarian. After you request an appointment, the Library will get back to you within 2 business days letting you know if your appointment was approved; information about joining the meeting will be sent in a separate email. Appointments must be requested at least 5 days in advance. 

  • You can get a research card at the Central Library in Copley Square at either the Borrower Services Desk (Level One of the Boylston Street building) or the Delivery Desk (Level Two of the McKim building). This card is free and allows use of materials inside the library. To get this card, you need a photo ID and a document that states your current address. A driver's license or state ID should fulfill both requirements.

    If you are coming to the BPL from far away for extensive research, we encourage you to reach out to our Research Services librarians ahead of your visit to ensure the most efficient use of your time here. You can email our Research Services librarians at ask@bpl.org.

  • Generally speaking we do not make copies for patrons but we do offer photocopiers for your use. If you have trouble using one of our copiers let us know at the nearest service desk.

    Please note: some of our materials can’t be photocopied for preservation reasons. In many such cases digital photography would be allowed but please consult with a research librarian before photographing any research materials.

  • Special Collections materials are described in a variety of databases depending on format, including the online catalog, archives.bpl.org, and card catalogs. For assistance getting started searching, email specialcollections@bpl.org and staff will be happy to help you identify what you'd like to see.

Research Guides

Genealogy at the Boston Public Library

Genealogy at the Boston Public Library

We have many resources including databases. guides, events, and newspapers to help you research the history of your family.

Local & Family History Lecture Series Recordings

Watch recordings of some of the Boston Public Library's Local & Family History Lecture programs on our YouTube channel.
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