Boston Public Library Completes $15.7-Million Renovation of Special Collections

Courtesy of Boston Public Library

The Boston Public Library's newly renovated special collections department. 

Earlier this month, the Boston Public Library (BPL) announced the reopening of the central library’s special collections department following the completion of a $15.7-million renovation. The library is now open for full, in-person use of its extraordinary rare book and manuscript collections. 

“We are so lucky to have historic books and manuscripts on display at the Boston Public Library, and with that comes a responsibility to take care of these works and make them easily accessible,” said Mayor Michelle Wu at a reopening ceremony on September 13. “I’m thankful to the BPL and all who made restoration of the special collections possible for future generations of Boston residents to enjoy.”

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Rare books at BPL.

Funded by the city of Boston, the five-year project tackled a 31,000-square-foot area and included improvements to public spaces, upgraded storage for rare books and manuscript collections, new staff workspaces, a state-of-the-art conservation lab, and a new fire suppression system.

“The BPL can once again provide full service to our special collections’ treasures and continue stewarding the rare books and manuscripts collections in our newly renovated world-class space, accessible to all, both in-person and online,” said BPL President David Leonard.  “The historic items in this collection belong to the people of our city, and we look forward to sharing them with our community and the world.” 

Notable items in the BPL’s special collections include a First Folio; author/illustrator Robert McCloskey’s sketchbooks, including his preliminary drawings for Make Way for Ducklings; four original printings of the Declaration of Independence; the complete run of the abolitionist paper The Liberator; the first complete English-language Bible printed in America; and much more.   

“We are thrilled to welcome visitors into the newly renovated special collections spaces,” said Beth Prindle, BPL’s head of special collections. “As one of only two public members of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the BPL has a particular responsibility to providing the broadest possible access to these rare, distinctive, and culturally significant materials. Our collections are available for the study and enjoyment of everyone. As it says on the side of the McKim building, we are dedicated to making these treasured items ‘Free to All.’”