Research Library Services


Mission | Library for the Commonwealth | Collections | Departments and Services | Obtaining Materials


Through its Research Library Services Program, the Boston Public Library seeks to acquire, make available, preserve, and service significant research materials in all fields of knowledge. In order to ensure that highly specialized research collections and information are available, the Library maintains professionally skilled staff and in-depth resources in a variety of fields.

Library for the Commonwealth

As the Library for the Commonwealth, the Boston Public Library underlines its responsibility to serve residents throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As it was originally named, the Library of Last Recourse (LLR) provided reference and research services for the Commonwealth. As the nature of information has evolved over the past decade, it has become evident that the program to service residents across the State needed to evolve as well. Library for the Commonwealth services shall include but not be limited to, the development and maintenance of a statewide digital library, access to online media, research materials, multimodal reference services and information delivery, access to historical records and collections, inter-library loan services, and other resources responding to the informational, cultural, and educational needs of the Commonwealth. Through the Library for the Commonwealth program the Boston Public Library continues to offer a full slate of services to residents of the commonwealth wherever they live, whenever they need them.


These reference and research services represent a variety of services and materials that include - in addition to the basic book collection of over 6,000,000 volumes - microforms, electronic databases, special collections, business information services, research publications, and other materials from around the world. The Library maintains significant monograph and serial collections in virtually every subject category; special manuscript and archive collections in many of these fields enhance general research collections.

Departments and Services

All Departments of the Research Library respond to telephone, in-person, and mailed reference requests. In addition to answering questions from individuals and showing people how to use the resources of the Library, Research Library staff regularly give tours of their departments to school groups, other librarians, and other organizations. Staff are also responsible for the development of the collections in their subject areas. This requires reading publishers' announcements, review journals, looking through Library of Congress galley cards, and being familiar with the needs of the collections in order to make selections of materials to be purchased.

Obtaining Materials

The Research Library collections are in closed stacks and are non-circulating. Users fill out call slips for materials they wish to see; staff retrieve the materials and deliver them to the users in the reading rooms. Anyone may use materials in the Research Library by obtaining either a library card (if a resident of Massachusetts) or a courtesy card (if a non-resident). There is no charge for either card.