Special Collections: Search & Discover

While we are working towards making our collections searchable and accessible online, many of our collections are described in card catalogs, inventories, and other systems that are not currently electronically searchable. While some of our key discovery tools are linked here, please contact us if you are having trouble finding something or want to check if we hold additional material not described in the discovery tools. We are happy to use our internal search tools to assist in identifying materials relevant to your interests.

Discovery Tools

We are gathering feedback on a beta version of a simple search across our digital collections.

Discovery Tools


Search BPL's archival collections.

Research Catalog

Search for books or single manuscripts.

Collections A-Z

Browse an overview of our major collections.

Discovery Tools

Digital Commonwealth

Explore selections of our digitized collections available online.

Internet Archive

Access selections of our rare books and manuscripts online.

Special Collections Blog Posts

Read about highlights from our collections in these blog posts!

Search Strategies by Department

Description methods and preferred searching tools vary within the Arts, Archives, and Rare Books & Manuscripts departments. For more specifics on the best strategies for each department, check that department’s searching guide. If you are unsure which department would be best to check, contact us and we’ll be happy to help you get started searching.

Searching by Department


The Archives Department manages, describes, and makes accessible archival collections within the BPL Special Collections department.


The Arts Department collection includes photographs, prints, drawings, musical scores, paintings, sculpture, archives, books, & manuscripts.

Rare Books & Manuscripts

The Rare Books & Manuscripts Department collects printed books and handwritten materials from around the world.

More Research Centers at BPL

Explore more of BPL’s extensive research collections available for use within Central Library, including newspapers and magazines on microfilm, government documents, and the research library. Research Services staff can assist you with finding collections for your use, whether for casual interest, school-related projects, or scholarly research. Maps, atlases, and other cartographic materials are located at the Leventhal Map & Education Center, located on the first floor of Central Library in Copley Square.

Other Research at BPL

Research Services

Research Services staff can assist you with finding collections for your use, for formal education support, scholarly research, and more.

Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center

The Map Center uses maps, geography, and history to explore the connections between places and people in Boston, New England, and beyond.
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