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Rare Books and Manuscripts Department

All Are Welcome

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Department of Boston Public Library connects people to history. Located at the Central Library in Copley Square, we collect printed books and handwritten materials from around the world. Our collections are open to everyone, both online and in-person. 

Featured Gallery

Rare Books Dept. renovations: New department to open in 2022... read more

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 Department. The renovation includes improvements to public spaces, collection storage areas, staff spaces, and conservation lab to ensure the long-term preservation of the library’s exceptional rare book and manuscript collections. 

The Liberator. BPL's complete run now digitized and online ... read more

Our complete run of William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator is unique in two ways: first, this was Garrison's own copy, which he maintained in The Liberator's printing offices in Boston. Now it is also the only complete copy to be digitized fully and made freely available online. 

Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts Collection ... read more

Our early manuscripts collection contains manuscripts that date from the 900s through the 1600s. The collection is strong in liturgical and devotional works, along with classical Latin and Greek texts, works of philosophy, science, law, geography, and a variety of other subjects and genres. Learn more about this collection in a guide by our staff.

Personal library of John Adams ... read more

Deposited with the Boston Public Library in 1894, the John Adams Library includes over 3,000 volumes collected by the second president during his lifetime (1735-1826) as well as many volumes donated by members of his family. One of the major private collections of its day, the Adams Library remains one of the largest colonial American libraries still intact.

Early English playbooks, 1594-1799 ... READ MORE

Comprised chiefly of individual editions of English-language stage plays issued between 1594 and 1799, the Boston Public Library's collection of early English playbooks is extensive and diverse. Numbering well over 1,500 items, the collection also includes masques, pageants, and other dramatic entertainments, as well as collections of plays.

Declaration of Independence. BPL's original copies ... read more

We hold five rare printings of the Declaration of Independence issued in July, 1776. In addition, the library also holds an extremely rare proof copy of William Stone's 1823 engraving of the original document, which preserves details no longer easily visible to the naked eye.

Pat Alger Collection of Works by Rockwell Kent ... READ MORE

Acquired in 2003, this collection includes an extensive array of Rockwell Kent's published artwork and writings. Materials include original pen and ink drawings, wood engravings, lithographs, watercolors, zinc engraving, sketches, textiles, ephemera, and signed limited editions.

Incunabula: European printing before 1501 ... read more

Our Incunabula Collection contains hundreds of books documenting the emergence and spread of typographical printing in Europe during the 15th century. Learn more and see highlights from the collection in this guide from our staff!

Recently processed: George W. Forbes papers ... READ MORE

We processed and digitized the papers of George W. Forbes (George Washington Forbes), a journalist, civil rights advocate, librarian, and scholar who was for many years a prominent voice in two of Boston’s earliest Black newspapers -- the Courant and the Guardian. He was a member of the Massachusetts Racial Protective Association and played an ancillary role in the founding of the Niagara Movement, which was a forerunner of the NAACP. In 1896, he became the first Black librarian in the Boston Public Library system.

The Woman's Era: BPL's copy now digitized ... read more

Now available online: One of the first national magazines written and edited by and for Black women, the Boston-based Woman's Era featured everything from literature reviews to articles on civil rights activism, current events, and health and beauty tips. BPL's copy was apparently owned by one of the editors of the magazine, Florida Ruffin Ridley.

Mission

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Department is the Boston Public Library’s primary repository for rare and historically significant books, manuscripts, and related materials. Our staff works to facilitate research, discovery, and learning through public engagement with the primary source materials under our care.

Through careful stewardship, we build, describe, and preserve the library’s collections so that they can be used by the people of Boston, the Commonwealth, and communities of researchers and learners everywhere.

Values and vision

Our mission takes us beyond acquiring and securing the collections under our care. We engage our holdings specifically to meet the research, learning, and cultural enrichment needs of the communities that we serve.

Assuring that people remain centered in the work of rare materials stewardship requires thoughtful planning and intensive collaboration. For us, this work is iterative and ongoing.

 Looking ahead, we seek to

  • Build collections that reflect the information needs of the diverse communities we serve.

  • Become more responsive to emerging research trends.

  • Increase our support for instructors and for teaching with primary source materials more broadly.

Contact & Reading Room Hours

Contact us!

Address:
Rare Books and Manuscript Department
Boston Public Library
Boylston St. Building, 3rd Floor
700 Boylston St
Boston, MA 02116
Reading Room Hours:
The reading room is currently closed for renovations.
  • Monday: TBA
  • Tuesday: TBA
  • Wednesday: TBA
  • Thursday: TBA
  • Friday: TBA
  • Saturday- Sunday: Closed