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Architecture Index Card Collection: Searching and Browsing

A Guide to Searching the Architecture Index Cards in the Arts Department

Searching and Browsing: Overview

The collection consists of digitized index cards that were originally housed in a large card catalog cabinet. Each drawer is organized by subject, such as “architect” or “building.”

Before these cards were digitized, patrons had to rely on an Arts librarian to physically search for their particular topic. Now patrons can search these cards online, giving more immediate access to a number of resources in the Arts collection.

Because many of the cards are handwritten, the “Find” function does not always catch every word. We recommend that you scroll through each “drawer.” You can find descriptions of each drawer here. Information on a single topic may exist in multiple drawers, so it is best to think as broadly as possible about potential searches.

Catalog Cabinets

General Searches

You can view all the “drawers” here. It is helpful to start by browsing through the drawer names to get a fuller understanding of the collection and what options there may be for your search. There are a number of places information you are looking for could be found. Some potential questions to ask yourself when searching this collection are:

  • “Who built this house?”
  • “What kind of building am I looking for?”
  • “Where is this building located?”
  • “Who owned this house?”
  • "Has the address changed?"
  • "Who built this structure?"
  • "What king of building am I looking for? A church? Museum? Library? Hotel?"

Searching for an Architect

The majority of the collection is arranged by “architect,” by either the individual’s name or the name of the architectural firm. You are likely to find information on individual architects and firms in drawers 1 – 24. Information on cards range from biographical information to a timeline of architectural projects. References to published resources within the research collection can be requested through our catalog. Items also may be located within special collections within the Arts Department ( You will need to contact an Arts librarian to access.


Searching for a Building

To search for a specific building, there are many options. Is the building you are looking for a school or a museum? A hotel or a hospital? There are drawers specifically devoted to these kinds of structures. You may also be able to find information in the “address” drawers, which are arranged alphabetically by street and then numerically by street number. There are also drawers devoted to named houses, such as “Bradlee-Doggett House,” or by the name of the homeowner.

Note on Harmful Language

Boston Public Library catalog records describe historical materials that reflect the attitudes, ideas, and norms of the time periods and cultures in which they were created. Researchers using these records might therefore encounter direct quotations or detailed descriptions of original documents that incorporate inappropriate or harmful language used to describe persons and events. This includes language that is racist, misogynistic, homophobic, or ableist.

Furthermore, while the Boston Public Library strives to catalog its collections in an equitable and inclusive manner, we recognize that this has not always been the case. The majority of the records contained in our legacy card catalogs, for example, are decades old and reflect the prevailing biases of the time periods in which they were created.

Card catalogs also reflect the biases of the librarians, staff members, and affiliates who created them. Descriptions of materials contained in our card catalogs -- including titles, subject headings, and summary notes -- sometimes also contain harmful language and often prioritize access to information about white, male creators, while deprioritizing description and access to materials about women and people of color.

Because many of the electronic records contained in our online catalogs were copied over directly from cards, outdated and harmful language was sometimes carried over as well.

Catalog cards and electronic catalog records derived from catalog cards have been made available online because the access that they provide to primary source materials is uniquely valuable to the research community at large. Our efforts to repair outdated descriptions and to describe our collections more equitably are iterative and ongoing.