Rare Books & Manuscripts Renovation

The City of Boston has funded a $15.7M capital project to perform a full renovation, including extensive environmental and mechanical improvements to the Library’s Rare Books & Manuscripts Department.

The renovation includes improvements to the special collections reading room, lobby, collection storage areas, staff spaces, and conservation lab to ensure the long-term preservation of the library’s exceptional rare book and manuscript collections. This project is a collaboration between the Boston Public Library and the Public Facilities Department, under the leadership of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and the firm Finegold Alexander Architects. Project highlights include:

Image of man looking at items in glass display cases on the left part of the image, spanning two walls. Next to the display cases in the far end of the image are clear glass doors, coming back towards the foreground are glass walls, through which you can see books and a classroom. In the foreground is a woman on a computer at a desk, as a greeter.

  • Convenient, direct public access to the department from a centrally-located elevator in the Johnson building
  • Welcoming visitor’s entrance featuring museum-quality gallery space to showcase treasures from the library’s special collections

Image of large open area with a woman at a desk by a set of doors on the left. This is the welcome desk, and they are the greeter.

  • New reading room facilities to serve researchers across all special collections departments
  • Dedicated classroom space for educational programs and small group visits

Image displays a classroom with several desks and chairs, with books on shelves around them. There is a glass door to enter the room.

  • State-of-the art building systems for environmental control, security, & fire suppression
  • Improvement of special collections storage systems and enhanced capacity
  • Renovated and enhanced conservation facilities and staff workspaces

Project Timeline

  • Programming Study - completed 2017 
  • Design - completed  2017—2018
  • Construction - 2019—2021
  • Move In - 2021
  • Projected Reopening - late 2021

Interim Services

The Rare Books and Manuscripts department is currently closed to all in-person public service for the duration of the renovation. However, department staff may be able to answer certain basic questions about the extent of our holdings via email; staff will respond to inquiries within five business days.

Selections from the rare books and manuscripts collection have been digitized and are available via the Internet Archive or Digital Commonwealth. Please note that we are not able to fulfill custom digitization requests.

We know that this closure deeply affects the research community and we greatly appreciate your patience and understanding while we complete this important work to preserve and protect the library’s most important holdings.

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