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Rare Books and Manuscripts Department

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

Contact info
Day                 Hours
Monday:          TBA
Tuesday:         TBA
Wednesday:    TBA
Thursday:        TBA
Friday:             TBA
Saturday:        CLOSED
Sunday:          CLOSED


Collections Overview

Collections in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department bring together source materials from around the world, with a particular focus on the history of Boston and New England.

Areas of strength in our collections include American and British civilization; Spanish and Portuguese literature; 19th-century American abolitionism, and early European printed books and manuscripts, among many others.

Anti-Slavery collections
Medieval manuscripts
Boston town records, 1623-1822
Womens history
Personal library of John Adams
Emily Dickinson
Spanish and Portuguese literature
Theodore Parker collection
Landscape gardening and horticulture


Digital Collections

Digitization of collections is a major part of what we do. Our staff facilitates digitization in order to increase the reach and accessibility of our collections. We work with the BPL Digital Services Team and with imaging and conservation partners around the Greater Boston Area.

Image of man digitizing a sheet of paper with the phrases "Freely available one", "Constantly expanding", and "In the public domain"BPL digital collections are freely available online, constantly expanding, and in the public domain unless stated otherwise.

Digital collections can be accessed through either Digital Commonwealth or Internet Archive. The same collections can also be accessed through our online catalogs and archival finding aids database.



New Acquisitions

We are always engaged in the work of building our collections. New materials are acquired via purchase and through donations. While acquisition priorities can change over time, we generally seek to both build on existing strengths and to address gaps.

The gallery below contains a selection of the Department's recent acquisitions. Click on each image for further details and links.

Acquisitions Gallery


Some of our collections are more complicated to navigate than others. Collection guides can help. These guides contain useful info, including broad overviews and histories of specific collections, detailed descriptions of contents, suggestions for how to find material, and more.

To view guides from Rare Books and Manuscripts Department collections, click through the tabs, above.

The Boston Public Library's Anti-Slavery Collection represents one of the largest institutional holdings of special collections materials related to 19th-century American abolition movements. Many leading anti-slavery activists of the period had ties to New England and women played notable, visible roles within the movement as organizers, fundraisers, and advocates. Click on the image below to see the collection guide.

From page of the Anti-Slavery Collection libguide

The Thomas Prince Collection and Library of the Old South Church -- usually just referred to as the Prince Collection -- is a group of approximately 3,500 books and 950 manuscripts assembled primarily by Old South pastors Thomas Prince (1687-1758) and Joseph Sewall (1688-1769). Click on the image below to see the collection guide.

Main page from the Prince Collection libguide

The BPL's early manuscripts collection documents the development of script and illumination across six centuries, representing a major resource for the study of history and art during the Middle Ages and Renaissance in Europe. Click on the image below to see the collection guide.

Image of the BPL Medieval manuscripts libguide

The BPL Rare Books and Manuscripts Department holds a comprehensive collection of early Boston tax records. Dating from 1780 through 1821 and comprising more than 1,350 individual manuscripts, the collection represents a rich source of data, preserving intimate and often unique details about the character of Boston and its early residents. Click on the image below to see the collection guide.

Main page of the Boston Tax Records libguide

The BPL's Incunabula Collection contains hundreds of books, documenting the emergence and spread of typographical printing in Europe during 15th century. Click on the image below to see the collection guide.

Main page of the BPL incunabula libguide