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. Learn more about this major renovation and the important improvements being made to collection and public spaces. We look forward to welcoming researchers back into these newly renovated spaces in mid-2022. The library will post more specific information on reopening dates here once it is available.

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 and Manuscripts Department is the BPL's principle repository for rare and historically significant printed books, manuscripts, and archives. The department is open to the general public and the collections are freely available to all who wish to use them.

Holdings in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department span four millennia, with a particular focus on western language, history, and culture. The collections include everything from cuneiform tablets, to medieval manuscripts; the earliest books printed in Europe and the Americas, and historically important letters, documents, and collections of papers. Strengths of the collections include Boston, New England, and American history; medieval and early modern books; English drama, including the works of William Shakespeare; typography, printing, and the history of the book; and American and European literature.

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.


The Rare Books & Manuscripts Department strives to provide open and equitable access to its collections. Focusing on primary source materials, we support all aspects of research, teaching, and learning.

In addition to locating and retrieving materials for in-person use, department staff are available to provide expert reference services and guidance. Navigating large, complex collections — like those at the BPL — can sometimes seem challenging. We are here to help. To contact a staff member, follow the "Ask a Question" link at the top of this page.

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