Accessibility Guide

The Boston Athenaeum welcomes people of all abilities as visitors and members. Staff members strive to foster an inclusive and accessible environment

Contact Member and Visitor Services by email or 617-720-7604 if you need accommodations, seek information beyond the scope of this guide, or see anything in the guide that needs to be updated.

This guide was last updated April 20, 2023.

Resources and Services

Many library members and visitors find it helpful to consult with our Reference and Circulation staff to access books and other library materials. For further information refer to the Using the Library page.

In addition to the physical collection, the library offers digital access to select resources. Additional resources onsite may include:

  • Magnifying glasses
  • Neat Boards
  • Portable lamps for checkout
  • Assistive listening devices
  • Large print text binders

Tours

Docents and guides speak without amplification and use a combination of stairs and elevators. Information on tour types and scheduling a private/group tour is available on the Take a Tour page. To request other accommodations or with questions, please contact Membership@BostonAthenaeum.org or 617-720-7604.

Events and Programs

Auto-generated captions are available for most virtual programs. To request other accommodation, please contact Events@BostonAthenaeum.org or 617-720-7600.

We offer five in-person tours each week. Tour guides speak without amplification. Tour groups typically use a combination of stairs and elevators to navigate through the building. Visitors can request accommodations at the time of registration.

Service Animals

Service animals, as defined under Massachusetts Commonwealth law, are welcome.

Building Layout and Entry

The Athenaeum is a designated historic landmark. The library has:

  • 6 main floors; 5 gallery levels overlooking floors 1-5.
  • 2 elevators.
  • 4 stairwells.
  • 2 sets of accessible, gender-specific restrooms.
  • 5 accessible, single-occupancy, all-gender restrooms.

Most floors are linoleum with low-pile area rugs, unless otherwise noted below. Gallery levels have glass tile floors.

Doorways are at least 36 inches wide unless otherwise noted below.

Front Entrance

  • No-incline accessible pathway to right-facing side of entrance.
  • Trigger-activated motion detectors located to outside right of doors and inside left of doors.
  • Handrail on right-facing side of stairs only.

Lobby

  • Manually-operated accessible lift to lobby level located to left within vestibule.
  • Accessible front desk.
  • Marble flooring throughout.

Elevators

There are 2 accessible elevators.

  • Elevator 1, (Beacon Street side) runs between the basement and the 5th floor.
  • Elevator 2 (Granary Burying Ground side) runs between the sub-basement rear and the 2nd floor
    Front door opens on basement (B), 1, and 2. Rear door opens on sub-basement rear (SR) and basement rear (BR).

Stairwells

There are 4 stairwells:

Stairwell 1 is located between the elevators and connects the basement and the 5th floor.

  • Steps are marble.
  • Doors open out from the stairwell onto the floor, except on levels 2G and 5, where the doors open into the stairwell.

Stairwell 2 is located on the Beacon Street side of the building and connects the 2nd floor and the 5th floor.

  • Steps are metal with a black non-slip tread.
  • Handrail present in some sections, but not all.

Stairwell 3 is located on the south side, or Granary Burying Ground side, of the building.

  • Stairwell goes between the basement and the sub-basement.
  • Doors open into the stairwell.

Stairwell 4 is located on the east end of the building inside the Drum.

  • Stairwell goes between the basement level and the top of the Drum.
  • Steps are stone.
  • Handrail present.
  • Stairwell has low light.

Sub Basement (SR)

  • Narrowest fixed point is 24 ½ inches around columns; bookshelves are movable with a hand operated crank.
  • Phone available to call for staff assistance.
  • Floor is uneven in some places.

Basement

  • Accessible, gender-specific bathrooms; entrances are 34 ½ inches wide.
  • Ceiling has low-hanging ductwork in some places. Lowest point is 63 ½ inches high.
  • Floor is uneven in some places.
  • Some bookshelves are movable with a hand operated crank.
  • Narrowest fixed point is 22 ½ inches around columns.

Floor 1 (Entry Level)

Exhibition Spaces

Exhibition spaces on the first floor include the Bayard Henry Long Room, Gordon Reading Room, Leventhal Living Room, and Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery.

  • Wooden floors located in Calderwood Gallery and Leventhal Living Room.
  • Wall-mounted display cases and touch-screen display locations in exhibition change with exhibitions. Please contact Membership@BostonAthenaeum.org for more information planning your visit.
  • Accessible, multi-stall, gender-specific bathrooms located in hallway adjacent to Leventhal Living Room. Each restroom includes a baby changing station.

Coat Room

  • Accessible, all-gender, single-occupancy restroom.
  • Sensor-activated water fountain.

Children’s Library

  • Shelving units are on wheels that remain locked.
  • Foam tile baby mats may be present on floor.

Gallery Level 1G

  • Narrowest point of gallery is 19 inches wide.
  • Railing is 32 inches high.
  • Doorway leading into the Long Room Gallery has a raised threshold.
  • Gallery space above Gordon Reading Room is 32 inches wide.

Floor 2

  • Accessible, all-gender, single-occupancy restroom.
  • Terrace door has a 3-inch raised threshold and 3 steps down to patio.
  • Narrowest point is 33 inches wide in between bookshelves.

Gallery Level 2G

  • Narrowest point of the gallery is 22 inches wide.
  • Railing is 32 inches high.
  • Accessible, all-gender, single-occupancy restroom.

Floor 3

  • Accessible, all-gender, single-occupancy restroom.
  • Narrowest point is 33 inches wide in between bookshelves.

Gallery Level 3G

  • Narrowest point of the gallery is 20 inches wide.
  • Railing is 30 inches high.
  • Gallery staircase has railing only on one side.

Floor 4

  • Accessible, all-gender, single-occupancy restroom
  • Narrowest point is 31 inches wide in between bookshelves
  • Entrance to Trustees’ Room is 27 inches wide (single panel) with a raised threshold. Double panels can be opened upon request.
  • Living rooms and Trustees’ Room have wooden flooring.

Members’ Living Room

  • Entrance is a gradual 4-inch ramp.
  • Two accessible, gender-specific bathrooms.

Kitchenette

  • Structural column in the center of the space. Narrowest point around the column is 28 inches.

Phone Booth Alcove

  • First phone booth to the right is accessible

Gallery Level 4G

  • Narrowest point is 21 inches wide.
  • Railing is 30 inches high.
  • Gallery staircase has railing only on one side.

Floor 5

  • Door into the Members’ Lounge is 32 inches wide.
  • Terrace door is 24 inches wide with 1 step up (8 inches high) and a 3-inch raised threshold.

Gallery Level 5G

  • Accessed by gallery staircases from fifth floor; no elevator access.
  • Gallery staircases are steep with low ceilings.
  • Gallery stairs have steps 24 inches wide by 8.5 inches tall.
  • Gallery staircases are 19 inches wide between railings.
  • Narrowest point of the gallery is 21 inches wide.
  • Railing is 35 inches high with no end railing on interior-facing. segments.

Drum

Drum does not conform to ADA standards; please note the following:

  • 10 levels; accessed via basement and main floors 1, 2, and 3. Half levels accessed via stairs inside the Drum
  • 21 inch wide glass passerelle/aisles.
  • 3 inch gap from aisles to bookshelves.
  • Doors open into the Drum and range in width and height.
  • Ceilings have inconsistent heights and low-hanging ductwork in some places.
  • Stairs between Drum levels are metal and dimly lit.
  • Basement level Drum has one step down (4 inches high) at entrance and has uneven brick flooring.

Contacts

  • To request information beyond the scope of this guide or if you notice anything in the guide that needs to be updated, contact Membership@BostonAthenaeum.org or 617-720-7604.
  • To request help identifying, locating, and reserving books, contact reference@bostonathenaeum.org or Circulation@BostonAthenaeum.orgor 617-227-0270.
  • To request accommodations for programs, contact Events@BostonAthenaeum.org or 617-720-7600.
  • To request help at the front entrance, contact 617-227-0270 x222.