Using the Library

Our circulating library offers five galleried floors of over half a million books, from works published in the 1800’s to current bestsellers. Now with more reading nooks, cozy seating, and digital access than ever before, we invite you to find a comfortable leather chair, linger for a day and enjoy the unparalleled views of the King’s Chapel Burial Ground and Boston’s skyline.

Reference librarians at the Boston Athenæum are always happy to help members and visitors. Whether you are researching an extensive scholarly project, learning how to use Athena, (the Athenæum’s online catalog), curious about an obscure fact, or looking for a cozy mystery to read over the weekend. Stop by the Reference Desk any time or submit a reference question.

Reference librarians and the main reference collection are located on the second floor of the Athenæum.

Members may also check out and return books, reserve books, sign up for Art & Architecture Tours or meet for New Member Tours, and ask for help finding books at the Front Desk on the First Floor.

Library FAQ

How do I join a discussion group?

Discussion groups are run by members who are volunteer moderators. To see a comprehensive list of discussion groups, and request to join please click here

What is the drum?

The drum consists of 10 floors of continuous book storage. An innovative storage solution when it was added, it allowed the Athenæum to expand its collection. Members can access the drum through the basement, first, second, and third floor.

How many books may I check out at one time, and for how long?

Six books may be checked out at any given time. Books may be borrowed for up to 60 days, with the exception of recent acquisitions (located in the bow room on the first floor and in the Art Department) which are 14-day loans.  In either case, you may extend the loan if there is no waiting list. Call the circulation desk or log in to Athena to renew or reserve any of the books you have checked-out, or would like to check-out.

Where do I find the catalog?

Computers for checking Athena, the Boston Athenæum Catalog, are located on the first, second, third, and fourth floors as well as the basement and sub-basement.

Do you mail books?
How do I print at the Athenæum?

Instructions for printing onsite can be found here

I need computer access, where should I go?

Computers running Windows and offering a variety of services such as internet access and Microsoft Office are available on the second floor and fifth floor. All files saved to these computers are erased each day when they are rebooted. Files may be printed (black & white only) at 10 cents per page. All documents print and should be picked up at the circulation desk. See a reference librarian for help.

Do you have scanners and copiers?

All scanners and copiers are located on the second floor. Books and other materials may be copied using a black & white photocopier with a book handler for 25 cents per page. Please ask a reference librarian for help with fragile books.

Alternatively, you can scan using your phone! The reference desk has equipment to help you scan with your phone and instructions can be found here

How do I read something on Microfilm?

Microfilm can be read using the microfilm reader that saves to USB drive or can print to a printer. See instructions here or ask a reference librarian for help.

How can I learn more about using a computer?

Our reference librarians are happy to help. Stop by the desk on the second floor. Get started on your own with this helpful guide