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Arts Department, Special Collections

Getting Started


Welcome to the Arts Department!

With its renowned collection of photographs, prints, drawings, musical scores, paintings, sculpture, archives, books and manuscripts, the Arts Department supports the Boston Public Library as a center of knowledge. Spanning the 15th century to the present day, our collections offer a view into Boston and a portal to the world beyond its borders. We create opportunities for discovery and exploration of visual and musical materials by ensuring their preservation and providing multiple forms of access to these materials. We uplift current holdings and select new collections that connect to and support the dynamic needs of our users, document the history of our time, and demonstrate the relevance and value of artistic practice in society.

You Don't Know Beans, Boston Postcard Collection (ca.1911)

This guide provides introductory information for each curatorial area represented in the Arts Department: fine arts, music, photography, prints and drawings. Each curatorial page offers overviews of major collections and provides options for general and more in-depth searching within these curatorial areas. 

The Arts Department maintains card catalogs, paper finding aids, accession lists, and other inventory documents. However, many items and collections are not yet cataloged online and are primarily searchable on-site and in print form only. Researchers are encouraged to visit in person or contact the Arts Department for further information.

Objects in historical collections reflect the attitudes, ideas, and norms of the era and culture in which they were created or collected. Therefore, some images or historic descriptions may contain potentially offensive imagery, language, or opinions, including disparaging portrayals or descriptions of persons based on characteristics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, or religion. Some photographs may depict ceremonies, objects, or clothing from historically marginalized cultures in a disrespectful or exploitative fashion. Our efforts to repair outdated descriptions and to describe our collections in an equitable way are iterative and ongoing. These materials are presented for the purpose of preserving the historical record and do not constitute any endorsement of the viewpoints or sentiments expressed within them.

Read our statement on Potentially Offensive and Harmful Content here.


Learn about the other collections within the Special Collections Department including

Rare Books & Manuscripts, Archives and Preservation.

Click on the image below.


Boston Public Library does not own the copyright to all of the materials in our collections. While we may provide copies of images, it is up to the user to determine if the image is in the public domain, secure permissions from the rights holder(s), or determine if the intended use may be considered exempt from copyright restrictions under the fair use section of U.S. copyright law. Further information about copyright for images is available through our image repository Digital Commonwealth

We do not apply any further licensing restrictions beyond those already asserted by the copyright holder. In order to help others locate published images, we require credit lines to include the Boston Public Library, Arts Department, as the custodial institution. 

For copyright-related questions, please e-mail

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