The Arts

Central Library in Copley Square

McKim Building, 2nd Floor (Washington Room)

Department Hours and Contact Information

The Arts Department is currently closed to in-person public service.

Reference questions related to fine arts, architecture, music, and the performing arts are answered by staff in the Research Services Department. Please contact them at their desk on the second floor of the Central Library, direct your question to, or use this web form to ask a reference question.


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), many musical first editions and other rare items; 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.

Architectural Plans and Drawings: The core of the BPL's architectural drawings collections focus on Boston-area firms, often with national and international commissions. Many of the collections represent the oeuvre of the architect or the firm. In addition to original drawings, selected collections include office records, correspondence, reference materials used by the architects, sketchbooks, and photographs. 


Requesting Arts Materials

Please note that our Arts Department retrieval method has changed. You can now request materials in our Fine Arts and Music research collections online through the BPL catalog. We are no longer able to pull Arts material on demand.

  • 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 the Arts department and ask the staff to pre-request books for you. 

Special collections materials—including archival collections, books published before 1800, and some rare or fragile music items—are not available for viewing at this time. 

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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