Research Appointment

The Boston Athenaeum’s Arthur & Charlotte Vershbow Special Collections Reading Room is available for appointments: Tuesdays 1pm – 7pm and Wednesdays through Fridays, 10am – 4pm.

Requests for rare materials must be made in advance, and all researchers must register online where you will find all guidelines. We need to know what you want to see before your arrive. You can request items directly from our online catalog and from Digital Collections. All requests for appointments are confirmed by email.

The Special Collections Reading Room is intimate with limited space. We ask that you request your appointment as early as you can. 

Athena Online Catalog

Athena, the online catalog, lists what the Athenæum owns: its holdings of circulating books, journals, and newspapers as well as special collections like rare books, manuscripts, tracts, photographs, etc.

Digital Collections

This searchable image repository offers over 13,000 partial and fully digitized items from the Boston Athenaeum’s collections of rare books, prints, photographs, maps, archives, etc. It is a dynamic database with new materials added frequently.

If you cannot find an item in the catalog, please consult a reference librarian, or items may be requested manually: Boston Athenaeum Special Collections Registration

After you login (or register if a first-time user), click on “New Request” to fill in author, title, call number, etc. Librarians will confirm by email.

What to expect when you arrive

  • Remember to bring a government-issued photo ID when visiting the Boston Athenaeum Special Collections
  • You will be asked to place coats, umbrellas, briefcases, laptop cases, and large bags in self-serve lockers
  • No bags of any kind or coats are allowed in the Vershbow Special Collections Reading Room
  • Turn off the sound on all devices like smartphones, tablets, etc.
  • Dispose of food and drink before entering the building

Paintings & Sculpture

Requests for paintings and sculpture require permission from the appropriate curator (email

Paintings & Sculpture Online

Search or browse nearly 600 paintings and sculptures in the Athenaeum’s collection. You will find basic information—artist’s name, title, date, etc.—for each of the objects. The group of highlighted works with expanded information will be enhanced from time to time; and new acquisitions will be featured as well.

Permissions and Copyright 

  • Permission to consult the Special Collections does not include permission to publish or quote from material contained therein. Application for permission to publish or quote from the collections of the Boston Athenaeum must be made in writing, with the understanding that the Boston Athenaeum does not necessarily hold the copyright to the material. 
  • Permission to publish from unpublished works under copyright must be obtained in advance from the holder of the copyright. The researcher assumes full legal responsibility for observing copyright law and all laws respecting the literary property rights of the donors or creators (their heirs or assigns) of special collections materials. Laws against libel and invasion of privacy may also apply. Researchers assume full responsibility for any legal questions that may arise as a result of their use of materials in the collections. The Boston Athenaeum will not be responsible for any infringement of copyright or the violation of any other law, rule or regulation by researchers.