Rare Books & Manuscripts

Central Library in Copley Square

Closure Notice: These 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 here, opens a new window. We look forward to welcoming researchers back into these newly renovated spaces in late 2021.

Reference questions related to rare books and manuscripts can be directed to rare_books@bpl.org. Many items from the department have been digitized and are available to view and download from Internet Archive and Digital Commonwealth.

The Rare Books & Manuscripts Department at the Boston Public Library holds approximately 235,000 rare or historically significant printed books and an estimated one million manuscripts. The department’s holdings are particularly rich in American literature and history, manuscripts and 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; early European printing, and medieval and early Renaissance manuscripts.

In addition to preserving and providing access to the intellectual contents of its collections, the department is also a locus of scholarship on the history and materiality of the book, with much staff expertise dedicated to tracing and describing the production methods, physical characteristics, and provenance history of its collections.

As both a public library and an accredited research institution, the Boston Public Library strives to make its most unique holdings widely and easily accessible. All collections in the Rare Books & Manuscripts Department are open to the public for research and are available for consultation in the rare books reading room.

An ever-increasing percentage of the collections has also been digitized and made freely available online. Patrons may visit the Internet Archive and Digital Commonwealth to view a portion of the Library’s special collections online. Information about individual collections can also be found on the Special Collections A-Z page. Please note that we are not able to fulfill custom digitization requests.

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