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Rare Books and Manuscripts Department

Address
Rare Books and Manuscripts Dept.
Boston Public Library
Boylston St. Building, 3rd Floor
700 Boylston St.
Boston, Massachusetts 02116

Contact info
Rarebooks@bpl.libanswers.com
617.859.XXXX
Day                 Hours
Monday:          AM-PM
Tuesday:         AM-PM
Wednesday:    AM-PM
Thursday:        AM-PM
Friday:             AM-PM
Saturday:        CLOSED
Sunday:          CLOSED

 

Online Catalogs

BPL has two online catalogs. You can access the same records through both, but each catalog presents search results and information in different ways.

Approximately 30% of Printed materials in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department are currently listed in the online catalogs.

Click the images below to try each catalog.

 

Regardless of which catalog you use, it is important to remember that our card catalogs (see menu on the left) still contain the fullest and most accurate list of the department's holdings.

 

Card Catalogs

Librarian thumbing through a card fileMost of the materials in the BPL Rare Books & Manuscripts Department are listed in the department’s card catalog.

A card catalog is a set of index cards used to store information about a collection. In a typical card catalog, each individual card describes a separate item.

The department has two card catalogs: one for printed materials and another for manuscripts.

In the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department, the card catalog is accompanied by a geographic file, in which descriptions of books are filed by place, and a chronological file, in which they are filed by date.

Card catalogs in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department can be accessed in person or online, through this guide.

 


Card catalog

The card catalog is the best place to search for books and other printed materials. It fills 374 drawers and contains over 400,000 cards, filed in alphabetical order by author name. Where no author is known, cards are filed alphabetically by title. Materials related to certain special subjects, like “abolitionism,” or “music” are filed under author's name, as well as subject.

The card catalog is fully cross-referenced, meaning that multiple cards, each describing the same item, can be filed in several different places. For instance, cards describing a single letter from Jane Doe to John Smith, about an event during the American Civil War, might be filed under Doe, Jane, under Smith, John, and under United States--History--Civil War.


Geographic file

The geographic file lists materials alphabetically by place of creation, rather than by author or subject. 


Chronological file

The chronological file lists materials by date only, from oldest to newest.

The card catalog for books and printed materials is organized alphabetically by author. When no author is known, cards are organized by title.

The card catalog fills 374 drawers and contains over 400,000 individual catalog cards. Each of the links below leads to a digitized copy of one whole drawer of cards. Scroll through the list and click on the links to browse.

To carry out a limited keyword search, see the Keyword Searching tab above.

Card catalog browse (printed material)

Scroll down iconDrawer 1. A-Accorso

Drawer 2. Account-Actors, American

Drawer 3. Actors, English-Adh

Drawer 4. Adi-Aes

Drawer 4a. Aes-Agr

Drawer 5. Agr-Alc

Drawer 6. Alcazar-Algebra

Drawer 7. Algebra, Extensive-Almanacs (A-T)

Drawer 8. Almanacs (G-Z)-Ama

Drawer 9. Amb-American coast

Drawer 10. American College-American Type

Drawer 11. American Union-Anda

Drawer 12. Ande-Annab

Drawer 13. Annal-Antom

Drawer 14. Anton-Arac

Drawer 15. Arag-Argy

Drawer 16. Aria-Arnim

Drawer 17. Arno-Asc

Drawer 18. Ase-Astronomical instruments

Drawer 19. Astronomical Journal-Astry

Drawer 20. Astu-Auk

Drawer 21. Aula-Avat

Drawer 22. Ave-Bacm

Drawer 23. Bacon-Baldy

Drawer 24. Bale-Bankette

Drawer 25. Bankr-Barius

Drawer 26. Barj-Bartolus

Drawer 27. Barton-Baxter's

Drawer 28. Bay-Bee

Drawer 29. Beebe-Benavente

Drawer 30. Benavides-Berry

Drawer 31. Berryman-Bible (texts)

Drawer 32. Bible (subject)-Bible, O.T. Samuel

Drawer 33. Bible, O.T., Song of Solomon-Bibliophist

Drawer 34. Biblioteca-Binn

Drawer 35. Birio-Bisco

Drawer 36. Bishop-Blix

Drawer 37. Bloch-Bolron

Drawer 38. Bolt-Book-keeper

Drawer 39. Bookkeeping-Bory

Drawer 40. Bos-Boston (Subject: A-Registry Dept.)

Drawer 40a. Boston (Subject: School Committee-Sun Fire Society)

Drawer 41. Boston (Subject: Tallow Chandlers-Streets. Zeigler Street)

Drawer 42. Boston (Subject: Taxation-Wharves)-Boston plute

Drawer 43. Bot-Bowring, Sir John

Drawer 44. Bowyers-Brashears

Drawer 45. Brass-Bright

Drawer 46. Brighter-Broadsides (Spain)

Drawer 47. Broadsides, U.S. (A-K)

Drawer 47a. Broadsides, U.S. (L-O)

Drawer 48. Broadsides, U.S. (P-Z)-Broadsides, facsimiles

Drawer 49. Broadsides (facsimiles)-Brown, Arthur M.

Drawer 50. Brown, Benj.-Browning, Robert (works by)

Drawer 51. Browning (works about)-Bryantville

Drawer 52. Bryce-Bulli

Drawer 53. Bullo-Burnap

Drawer 54. Burne-Jones-Butze

Drawer 55. Bux-Cairnes

Drawer 56. Cairo-Californische

Drawer 57. Caligula-Campaigns

Drawer 58. Campan-Canny

Drawer 59. Cano-Caricatures

Drawer 60. Carigal-Cartas

Drawer 61. Carte-Castleman

Drawer 62. Castlen-Cathec

Drawer 63. Cathedral-Caxton

Drawer 64. Cav-Ces

Drawer 65. Cesnola-Chapbooks

Drawer 66. Chapbooks (American)-Charleston Mercury

Drawer 67. Charleston Mass.-Chesney

Drawer 68. Chestnut-Childs

Drawer 69. Chile-Christel

Drawer 70. Christen-Chronology

Drawer 71. Chronometer-Church of England (establishment)

Drawer 71a. Church of England (liturgy and ritual)-Churches

Drawer 72. Churchill-Clairac

Drawer 73. Clairaut-Clemencin

Drawer 74. Clemens-Codding

Drawer 75. Code-Collatio

Drawer 76. Colle-Colmans

Drawer 77. Colme-Comh

Drawer 78. Comic-Compleat

Drawer 79. Complete-Confederacy

Drawer 80. Confederate's Polka March-Connected

Drawer 81. Connecticut-Converse

Drawer 82. Conversion-Cormn

Drawer 83. Cormon-Couailhac

Drawer 84. Coubine-Crafty

Drawer 85. Craggs-Crond

Drawer 86. Cronf-Cubd

Drawer 87. Cube-Cusr

Drawer 88. Cussons-Danby

Drawer 89. Danca-Darr

Drawer 90. Darses-Days

Drawer 91. Dayton-DeFlander

Drawer 91a. Defoe, Daniel (Collected works. Selections-individual works, A-J)

Drawer 91b. Defoe, Daniel (Individual works, K-Robinson Crusoe)

Drawer 91c. Defoe, Daniel (Individual works, Robinson Crusoe-Y)

Drawer 92. DeFoix-Denham

Drawer 93. Denina-Devienne

Drawer 94. Devig-Dickdook

Drawer 95. Dicke-Dilworth

Drawer 96. Diman-Divoz

Drawer 97. Divo-Dona

Drawer 98. Donaghy-Doy

Drawer 99. Doyle-Drama (English. Law)

Drawer 100. Drama (European. French)-Dryander

Drawer 101. Dryden-Duguet

Drawer 102. Du Halde-Durbin

Drawer 103. Dutch-Easie

Drawer 104. East-Edgett

Drawer 105. Edgeville-Eisler

Drawer 106. Ek-Elliott

Drawer 107. Ellipse-Emerson

Drawer 108. Emery-England (Theatres)

Drawer 109. England (Verse)-English language (A-Punctuation)

Drawer 110. English language (Reading books-writing)-English poetry

Drawer 111. English Pope-Epstein

Drawer 112. Equal-Essanto

Drawer 113. Essay-Europas

Drawer 114. European War. 1914-1919 (A-P)

Drawer 115. European War. 1914-1919 (R-Z)-Exmoor

Drawer 116. Exner-Fairyl

Drawer 117. Faith-Fate

Drawer 118. Father-Fenon

Drawer 119. Fenton-Fiction

Drawer 120. Fidalgo-Finly

Drawer 121. Finn-Flameng

Drawer 122. Flaming-Flushing

Drawer 123. Flute-Forjo

Drawer 124. Form-Fow

Drawer 125. Fox-France. Legation

Drawer 126. France. Marine-France (Antiquities-Heraldry)

Drawer 127. France (History)-Franceschini

Drawer 128. Francesco d'Assisi-Franklin, Benjamin (works by)

Drawer 129. Franklin, Benjamin (Biography)-Freducci

Drawer 130. Free-Frenc

Drawer 131. Frend-Frontenac

Drawer 132. Frontier-Functions

Drawer 133. Functions (Spherical)-Gallucci

Drawer 134. Gallup-Gardel

Drawer 134a. Garden-Garfield

Drawer 135. Gargantua-Gay neck

Drawer 136. Gaya-Gentlemen

Drawer 137. Gentlewoman-Geop

Drawer 138. Georg-Germany (Maps)

Drawer 139. Germany (Nationality)-Gilardone

Drawer 140. Gilbert-Gliddon

Drawer 141. Glide-Goldin

Drawer 142. Golding-Gorf

Drawer 143. Gorgeous-Granberg

Drawer 144. Grand-Great Bo

Drawer 145. Great Britain (Acts and laws-Parliament. House of Lords)

Drawer 146. Great Britain (Parliament, by date-Yearbooks)-Great Britain (Subject: A-Claims)

Drawer 147. Great Britain (Subject: Colonies-Historic houses)

Drawer 148. Great Britain (Subject: History. Baker-George II. Poetry)

Drawer 149. Great Britain (Subject: History. George III-Politics and Government, 1689-1702)

Drawer 150. Great Britain (Subject: Politics and Government, 18th century-Taxation)

Drawer 151. Great Britain (Subject: Theater-Zoology)-Greenl

Drawer 152. Greenough-Gromort

Drawer 153. Grondalla-Guilpin

Drawer 154. Guim-Haith

Drawer 155. Haiti-Hall's

Drawer 156. Hallam-Hanh

Drawer 157. Hanifen-Harril

Drawer 158. Harriman-Harver

Drawer 159. Harvest-Hayley

Drawer 160. Haym-Heig

Drawer 161. Heir-Hercules

Drawer 162. Herder-Heyv

Drawer 163. Heyward-Hinm

Drawer 164. Hindo-History (Ancient)

Drawer 165. History (Modern)-Hoadly

Drawer 166. Hoag-Holme

Drawer 167. Holmes-Hoper

Drawer 168. Hopes-Hou

Drawer 169. How-Hudspeth

Drawer 170. Hue-Hunters

Drawer 171. Hurtia-Hym

Drawer 172. Hynck-Illuss

Drawer 173. Illust-Incunabula (A-Ari)

Drawer 174. Incunabula (Ars-Lyr)

Drawer 175. Incunabula (Mac-Zut)-Indagine

Drawer 176. Indarte-Indians of North Carolina

Drawer 176a. Indians of South America-Institoris

Drawer 177. Institut-Irem

Drawer 178. Irena-Italy (Education)

Drawer 179. Italy (Fine arts)-Jacobi

Drawer 180. Jacobs-Jara

Drawer 181. Jardin-Jesu

Drawer 182. Jewett-Johnson, P.

Drawer 183. Johnson, R.-Jorg

Drawer 184. Jornada-Justicia

Drawer 185. Justification-Kelso

Drawer 186. Keltie-Kilner

Drawer 187. Kilpatrick-Klutschak

Drawer 188. Kluver-Kri

Drawer 189. Kroeber-Lafuente

Drawer 190. La Garaye-Landry

Drawer 191. Lands-Lark

Drawer 192. Larke-Lavoro

Drawer 193. Law-Ledyard

Drawer 194. Lee-Lekeux

Drawer 195. Lelaid-Lesko

Drawer 196. Lesl-Letter to

Drawer 197. Letter-Lexique

Drawer 198. Ley-Lig

Drawer 199. Ligg-Linc

Drawer 200. Lincoln, A. (Autographs)-Linforth

Drawer 201. Ling-Litt

Drawer 202. Liturgia-Loge

Drawer 203. Logic-London so

Drawer 204. London Stage-Lopez De Ayala

Drawer 205. Lopez, de Banos-Louisville Times

Drawer 206. Lounger-Luac

Drawer 207. Lu, Chi-Lyre

Drawer 208. Lyric-McGrath

Drawer 209. Mach-Macy

Drawer 210. Mad-Mai

Drawer 211. Mait-Mann

Drawer 212. Manners-Mar

Drawer 212a. Marb-Mari

Drawer 213. Marjorie-Martin

Drawer 214. Martin, W.-Mase

Drawer 215. Maser-Massachusetts (Acts and laws-Geological survey)

Drawer 216. Massachusetts (Governor-Medicine)

Drawer 217. Massachusetts (Militia-Zoology)-Math

Drawer 218. Mathematical-Matheo

Drawer 219. Mather-Matzer

Drawer 220. Mau-Medal

Drawer 221. Medals-Memoranda 

Drawer 222. Memoranda-Merle

Drawer 223. Merli-Mexico (A-Geography)

Drawer 224. Mexico (History)-Milanes

Drawer 225. Milbert-Milscent

Drawer 226. Miltimore-Missel

Drawer 227. Missing-Modjeska

Drawer 228. Modo-Monk

Drawer 229. Monk, George-Moonshine

Drawer 230. Moor, James-Moreas, Jean

Drawer 231. Moreau-Morse and Shaw's

Drawer 231a. Morsels-Moulin

Drawer 232. Mouffle-Murphy

Drawer 233. Murray-Mythus

Drawer 234. N-Natti

Drawer 235. Natupe-Navy

Drawer 236. Naw-Neu

Drawer 237. Nev-New England Press

Drawer 237a. New England Primer-New Hampshire

Drawer 238. New Harmony-New York (Colony)

Drawer 239. New York (State)-Newspaper carriers

Drawer 240. News-Nizza

Drawer 241. No-Northwood

Drawer 242. Norton-Nuremberg

Drawer 243. Nurse-Offers

Drawer 244. Office-Olivarius

Drawer 245. Olive-Orcutt

Drawer 246. Ord-Othon

Drawer 247. Otia-Pacey

Drawer 248. Pach-Palmas

Drawer 249.

Drawer 250.

 


The default view for all digitized catalog cards is in the form of a book reader. With the scroll bar, you can navigate quickly through the whole drawer, or you can click from one card to the next using the "left" and "right" arrows. Limited keyword searching across the entire main entry file is available through the Internet Archive collections page. See the Keyword search tab above for detailed instructions.

[Under development]

Geographic file (printed material) Scroll down ⬇

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The default view for all digitized catalog cards is in the form of a book reader. With the scroll bar, you can navigate quickly through the whole drawer, or you can click from one card to the next using the "left" and "right" arrows. Limited keyword searching across the entire main entry file is available through the Internet Archive collections page. See the Keyword search tab above for detailed instructions.

[Under development]

Chronological file (printed material) Scroll down ⬇

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The default view for all digitized catalog cards is in the form of a book reader. With the scroll bar, you can navigate quickly through the whole drawer, or you can click from one card to the next using the "left" and "right" arrows. Limited keyword searching across the entire main entry file is available through the Internet Archive collections page. See the Keyword search tab above for detailed instructions.

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Shelf list (printed material) Scroll down ⬇

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The default view for all digitized catalog cards is in the form of a book reader. With the scroll bar, you can navigate quickly through the whole drawer, or you can click from one card to the next using the "left" and "right" arrows. Limited keyword searching across the entire main entry file is available through the Internet Archive collections page. See the Keyword search tab above for detailed instructions.

Card catalog searching guide

1. Do you know the author's name, or the name of a person who is associated with the item, like the recipient of a letter or the subject of a biography?

  • Yes. Go to the digitized card catalog (above) and search by name. If the work is anonymous, search under the title.
  • No. If you do not know the name of an author or creator, go to step 2.

2. Do you know the place where the item was created?

  • Yes. Go to the geographic file (above) and search by place.
  • No. If you do not know the place of creation, go to step 3.

3. Do you know the date when the item was created?

  • Yes. Go to the chronological file (above) and search by date.
  • No. If you do not know when the item was created, go to step 4.

4. Is the item you’re looking for related to a particular subject, like mathematics or astronomy; or is it a particular kind of book or manuscript, like a diary or a Bible?

  • Yes. Search the digitized card catalog (above) by the subject or type of material. Certain special subjects and types of books and manuscripts have their own sections.
  • No. If you can't find your item by subject, go to step 5.

5. Can you think of ay keywords associated with the item?

  • Yes. Go to the keyword search tab, above.
  • No. Contact the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department. Just because something does not appear in our card catalogs, or elsewhere on our website, doesn’t mean we don’t have what you’re looking for!

Reading Catalog Cards

The information found in catalog cards is typically structured in order to be consistent from one card to the next. Information is also formulated to adhere to cataloging standards. So, for example, names are typically recorded last-name-first, certain abbreviations are used regularly, and the extent of an item (how many pages it contains) is recorded in a very particular way. Understanding where these pieces of info typically appear and what they usually look like will make it easier to use the card catalog. See the explanations below.

 

1. Author name. Allen, Joseph, Bp. of Ely, d. 1845

This is the name of the person primarily responsibly for the creation of the item. In this case, we are looking at a description of a letter written by Joseph Allen, Bishop of Ely (1770-1845).

2. Other associated name. To A[nthony] Panizzi

Anthony Panizzi was the recipient of this letter. Brackets typically enclose words or letters not found in the original manuscript. So in this case, we can assume that the name of the recipient appears in the letter as "A. Panizzi."

3. Date of creation. 1847 May 17

This is the date on which the item was created. The date typically appears in the upper-left portion of the card. If no date is known, cards are sometimes marked "n.d." (for no date). If date and month, but not year, are known, cards are sometimes marked "n.y." (for no year)

4. Place. [Dover St. London]

This is the place where the item was created. Usually this information is taken directly from the item. If it is not found on the item, but has been added to the description by the cataloger, it will usually be enclosed in brackets, as with this example.

5. Summary. Would be glad to purchase the brass bishop for the Cathedral . . .

This is a brief summary of the content of the item. These summaries are sometimes very lengthy, containing direct quotes. At other times, they can be very brief. Often they are omitted entirely.

6. Call number. G.51.7.1 no. 15.

A call number is a unique ID given to every item in the collection. A call number tells librarians where the item is stored. If you end up requesting to see a particular item, remember to always include the call number in your request. If you're not sure where the call number begins or ends, it's always better to include more info than less.

7. Extent and size. 2 pp. 4 1/2 x 7 1/2 cm.

In this area, the extent of an item (how many pages it's made up of) and the full size of the item is recorded. In this particular note, "pp." stands for pages -- the letter is two pages long and it measures 4.5 x 7.5 cm.

BPL's digitized card catalogs are hosted online by Internet Archive. Each card catalog has been digitized along with the geographic and chronological files that go along with it. Limited keyword searching within the card catalogs and their accompanying files is available through the Internet Archive collection page for each:

For best results, and to fully understand the significant limitations of keyword searching, please read the guide below.


Guide to keyword searching

To perform a limited keyword search of all cards in any specific catalog, first go to the Internet Archive collection page for the catalog you want to search.

Each collection page will have a search box on the left side of the screen. There are two buttons underneath the search box. Select the "text contents" button, type your query into the search box, then hit "enter." Files that contain matching results will appear. Click on each file to browse any cards that matched your search.

 

Once you have clicked on the file, you will see one or more blue marks along the scroll bar in the book reader. These marks show the locations of cards that contain text matching your search. You can scroll to the matches, or navigate directly to them using the arrow buttons above the scroll bar.

Limitations of searching

Search results should never be considered complete. The search engine relies on text files that have been automatically generated from digitized images of the cards themselves. The process of generating machine-readable text from images is called optical character recognition (OCR). OCR is far from perfect. Blurry or poorly printed cards, handwritten notes close to text, and even different typefaces can all render text generated via OCR extremely unreliable.

Above, a standard catalog card, with small, slightly blurred text. Below, the searchable text file generated from this image is partially garbled.

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.