Fine Arts & Music

Closure Notice: The Arts special collections are currently closed to in-person research due to the renovation of the Special Collections Reading Room as part of the Rare Books Renovation Project. You can learn more about this major renovation and the important improvements being made to collection and public spaces hereopens a new window, opens a new window. We look forward to welcoming researchers back into these newly renovated spaces in late 2021.

Reference questions related to special collections held in the Arts Department can be directed to arts@bpl.org. Many items from the department have been digitized and are available to view and download from Internet Archive and Digital Commonwealth.

Arts & Music Research Collections

Fine Arts: 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 Arts Department is also responsible for servicing special collections that document art and the decorative arts with special focus on Boston and New England. 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, collectors' manuals and many valuable early imprints, as well as major art indexes and abstracts, encyclopedias, dictionaries, bibliographies and auction records.

Music and Performing Arts: The Music collection totals over 150,000 volumes and concerns every facet of musical study, including biography, history and criticism, theory and composition, and music education; the collected editions of all the major composers (and many less well-known composers); and the important music indexes, encyclopedias and bibliographies.The collection also includes current periodicals, American and foreign music journals, including a number devoted to musical instruments, many of the standard recording review journals and popular music magazines.


Requesting Arts & Music Research Collections

  • Search for books using our online catalog, and place a hold request using your library card.
    • Make sure to designate the pick-up location as BPL - Central Delivery Desk.
    • Please note that the single-click hold feature needs to be set to "OFF" for your account.
  • As soon as the book has been retrieved and brought to the Delivery Desk (McKim Building, 2nd floor), you will receive an email notifying you that the book is ready for pick-up. 
  • Please note that these items are for in-library use only. 
  • Delivery time varies by item; most are available the same day within several hours. Occasionally, if a book needs additional processing, it may take up to 72 hours to be made available.
  • Alternately, e-mail reference staff for assistance in pre-requesting books for you. 

Special collections materials—including archival collections, books published before 1800, and rare or fragile music items—are not available for request. 


About the Catalog

The online catalog only includes materials cataloged since 1974. Materials acquired and processed before 1974 are listed in the microfiche version of the Research Library Catalog.

To learn more, view our electronic resources and archival collections.

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