What to Expect

The MHS library is free and open to the public. All visitors wishing to use the library must present a valid, government-issued photographic ID and be entered into the MHS researcher database.

At each visit all researchers report to the orientation room to check-in and receive an ID badge and lanyard, which must be worn by the researcher at all times while in the library.

Personal belongings are not allowed into the library. Researchers secure personal belongings in the lockers provided. Laptop computers and cameras are the only personal items allowed into the library. These items will be checked by a member of the library staff upon exiting the reading room. For more on this policy see "What to Bring."

The library and exhibition areas are monitored by a recording CCTV system. 

First-time Researchers

Before receiving a researcher badge and lanyard all first-time researchers must review and agree to the MHS library policies and complete a registration form. A valid, government-issued photographic ID is required to complete the registration process.

After registering and securing personal belongings, researchers meet one-on-one with a member of the Reader Services staff to receive a library orientation.

Access to Materials

The MHS is a closed stacks library. Researchers must complete printed call slips to request materials. ABIGAIL, the online catalog, and the collection guides provide the information required to complete call slips. The Reader Services staff pages material throughout the day. Final call for paging materials is 45 minutes prior to closing. 

Materials stored within the library rooms--reference books, microforms, and the Society's own publications--can be paged by researchers without the assistance of the Reader Services staff. 

Please note that the MHS is not a circulating library. Materials can be used only under supervision in the reading room.

Collections Stored Offsite

Approximately one-third of the MHS collections are located at an offsite storage facility. Advance notice of at least two business days is required for use of these materials. Materials stored offsite cannot be delivered to the MHS on Saturdays. Requests for materials to be used on Saturdays must be placed by the previous Wednesday.  

All offsite materials are identified in ABIGAIL, the online catalog, with the call number "OFFSITE STORAGE." If you require materials from offsite storage please contact the reference desk at 617-646-0532.


To ensure long-term preservation of manuscript materials the MHS provides microfilm editions of many of our collections. Researchers are required to use the microfilm version of all collections that exist in that format.

The MHS also holds the microfiche edition of both the Evan Series and Shaw-Shoemaker Series of Early American Imprints. In cases where the MHS holds both an original volume and a microfiche edition, researchers will be required to use the microfiche. 

The MHS has ScanPro 2000 workstations for researchers working with microforms. The ScanPro allows researchers to create multi-page PDF files that can be emailed or saved to their own USB drive. 

A limited number of MHS microfilm collections are available for interlibrary loan and/or purchase. For more information about obtaining microfilm for ILL/purchase please vist the Microforms page.


For security purposes, all researchers must work at individual work tables in the reading room and must submit individual call slips when making requests for materials. At the discretion of the reference librarian, special arrangements can be made to accommodate research teams that must work together to complete a specific project. If you would like to schedule an appointment please review our group research policy and contact the reference librarian at 617-646-0561 to confirm staff availability. Please note that a $45.00 per hour set-up and supervisory fee may apply.

For information about arranging a group tour of the MHS building please contact our art curator at 617-646-0508 or by email.

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