Special Collections

All special collections will be re-opening for research appointments in mid-September. (Please note the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center is currently open.) To request an appointment for Arts, Archives, or Rare Books & Manuscripts, create a reading room account at readingroom.bpl.org and use the new request page to request material for your preferred date and time. Please wait for confirmation of your appointment. If you have questions, special collections staff are happy to help!

One of only two public libraries in the United States that are members of the Association of Research Libraries, the Boston Public Library holds extensive special collections in a wide variety of subjects and formats.

Architectural Plans & Drawings Major collections of original drawings and designs by significant architects and architectural firms of the early nineteenth century through the late twentieth century featuring records of active local firms, including Peabody & Stearns (1870-1917), William G. Preston (1860s-1890s), Maginnis and Walsh (1913-1980 including successor firms), as well as assorted other smaller collections of drawings, such as those of Charles Bulfinch.    

Fine Arts More than 100,000 titles documenting art, architecture, and the decorative arts, with special focus on Boston and New England. 

Manuscripts & Archives At an estimated one million manuscripts, holdings are particularly strong in medieval and early Renaissance manuscripts, colonial Boston and New England, and the American anti-slavery movement. The library is also home to hundreds of archival collections with strengths in local business, political, cultural, and social history.

Maps The Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center services 200,000 historic maps and 5,000 atlases documenting the evolution of the printed map from woodcuts, copperplate engravings, and lithographs to the latest computer technologies. The geographical focus of these maps, atlases, and globes is the world, Europe, and America, with a particular attention to New England, Massachusetts, and Boston from the 15th century to the present day.

Music Over 150,000 volumes concerning every facet of musical study, including biography, history and criticism, theory and composition, and music education; the collected editions of all major composers; musical first editions and other rare items; and important music indexes, encyclopedias, and bibliographies.

Newspapers One of the major newspaper collections in the country and the center for the Massachusetts Newspaper Program. 

Photographs Special strengths include the Boston Pictorial Archive, the largest public collections of photographs of Boston in earlier days; important collections of early photographs of the American West; Civil War photographs; and nineteenth century photographs of native peoples and local architecture from all over the world. Documentary collections of photographs include the Leslie Jones collection and the Boston Herald Traveler morgue from 1920 to 1972.

Prints and drawings: The print collections total over 120,000 prints and drawings. Some of the outstanding holdings include works by Rembrandt, Durer, Rowlandson, Goya, Daumier, and Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as works by contemporary artists with ties to Boston.

Rare Books The BPL holds approximately 235,000 rare or historically significant printed books. Holdings are particularly rich in American literature and history, printed materials relating to colonial Boston and New England, early modern English literature and drama, Spanish and Portuguese literature, the history of science, mathematics, and navigation; and early European printing.

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