Books stacked on a table.

Using the Library

Our circulating library offers over half a million books, from works published in the 1800s to current bestsellers.

Now with more reading nooks, cozy seating, and digital access, we invite you to find a comfortable leather chair, linger for a day and enjoy the unparalleled views of the Granary Burial Ground and Boston’s skyline.

Questions? We’re always here and happy to help.
Reference library smiling from behind her desk.

Reference librarians love a challenge.

We are here to help you, whether you are researching an extensive scholarly project, learning how to use our catalog, curious about an obscure fact, or looking for a mystery to read over the weekend. Submit a reference question

man reading book near Athena statue

Let us help you find a book.

Finding the book you want among half a million can be a challenge. You can ask a librarian or follow our tried and true guidelines. Learn More

Bookshelf of newer books

Interlibrary Loans

Still can’t find the book? With our interlibrary loan system you can get books and periodical articles not available at the Athenaeum. Learn More

People sitting at or walking around a long table of periodicals.

Currently Received Journals

The Athenaeum has more than 140 journals available. Here is a list of journals and where to find them. Learn More

Library FAQs

How do I join a discussion group?

For a comprehensive list of discussion groups and request to join  click here.

What is the drum?

The drum consists of 10 floors of book storage and is open for browsing and borrowing. It was an innovative storage solution that allowed the Athenaeum to expand its collection.


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

Six books may be checked out at a time and can be borrowed for up to 60 days. New books are 14-day loans and are marked as such. You can extend the loan if there is no waiting list. Contact Circulation or renew through the catalog. 

Requesting and reserving books

You can request and reserve books and some periodicals through our online catalog. When looking at a record for a book, select “Pick Up at Circulation” from the list to the right where you will also see the options to print, email, etc.

Online requests are automatically delivered to the Circulation Desk each morning. For same day pickup, call Circulation 617-227-0270 x301 or Reference x302.

Request acquisition of a book
Renewing books

New books may be checked out for 14 days or 28 days (if the book is longer than 400 pages) and renewed, as long as no other member has requested a hold on them in the interim. After six months, books may be taken out for 60 days. The renewal process is the same as for 14-day or 28-day books

Overdue and lost books – what do I do?

If a book is overdue more than 30 days, the system will automatically mark the book “lost” and the member will be assessed a current value replacement fee, which will be removed as soon as the book is returned. If the book is lost, we ask for a current value replacement fee.

Where do I find the catalog when in the library?

Computers for checking the catalog are located on floors 2- 4, the basement, and sub-basement.

Do you mail books?

We do mail books! Book requests are placed with Circulation or Reference by phone, by email, or the “Pick up at Circulation” option in the catalog.

  • Oversized, fragile, or interlibrary loan books cannot be mailed. 
  • Outbound charges for mailing books are not being assessed at this time.
  • The borrower is responsible for postage and packaging of returned books.
  • Replacement costs for books lost en route will be assumed by the Athenaeum.
  • Replacement costs for books damaged while in the hands of the borrower or lost en route back to us will be charged to the borrower.
I need computer access, where should I go?

Computers are available on the second and fourth floors. Anything saved to these computers is erased each day. Printouts (black and white only) cost 20 cents per page and can be picked up at the front desk. See a reference librarian on the second floor for help.

How do I print, copy, or scan at the Athenaeum?

To print, you use one of the computers on the second or fourth floors. Printouts cost 20 cents per page and can be picked up at the front desk.

On the second floor, there is a copier that handles books gently and has black-and-white scanning capability. It costs 20 cents per printed page.

Sending a scan to your email is free. There is also a holder with additional light for smartphones, so you can use your own device for color scanning. Ask a reference librarian for help with fragile books.

How do I read something on Microfilm?

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

How do I see rare books and items?