What to Expect

All first-time visitors wishing to use the library must create a user account in Portal1791, our online request system; present a valid, government-issued photo ID upon arrival (original only, no facsimiles); and be photographed by MHS staff.

First-time and returning researchers begin their day’s visit in the library’s orientation room, where they check in and receive an ID badge and lanyard, which must be worn in the library at all times.

Most personal belongings (e.g., notebooks, folders, books, papers, pens, bags) are not allowed into the library. Researchers must secure these items in the lockers provided in the orientation room. laptops, tablets, cell phones, and cameras (and the accompanying power cords) are the only personal items allowed into the library; cases for these devices, however, must be stored in the lockers. Upon exiting the reading room, researchers will be asked to open laptops for inspection by library staff.

For more on this policy see "What to Bring."

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

First-time Researchers

Before entering the library’s reading and reference rooms, first-time researchers must create a personal account in Portal1791, the Society's online system for requesting research materials. We recommend opening the account prior to your visit, but you can also do so on-site at the MHS.  Upon arrival at the MHS, researchers report to the orientation room, where they complete the registration process by presenting a valid, government-issued photo ID and being photographed by MHS staff. After they have registered and secured their personal belongings in lockers, first-time researchers meet one-on-one with a reference librarian for an orientation.

Access to Materials

The MHS is a closed-stack, non-circulating library. Researchers place requests for materials using their Portal1791 account and view these materials in the reading room. Requests can be made directly from ABIGAIL, the MHS online catalog, or from online collection guides. The Reader Services staff retrieves materials up until 45 minutes before the library closes.

Collections Stored Offsite

A third of the MHS collections are located at an offsite storage facility. Advance notice (via Portal 1791) 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. The Society is limited in the amount of material that can be delivered in one day. Researchers needing more than six items from offsite storage should provide additional advance notice.

All offsite materials are identified in ABIGAIL and the Collection Guides with the call number "OFFSITE STORAGE."

To ensure that the materials you requested have arrived by the day on which you plan to visit the library, or if you have questions about requesting materials from offsite storage, please contact the reference desk at 617-646-0532 or reference@masshist.org.

Microforms & Surrogate Copies

To ensure the preservation of our manuscript materials, the MHS provides microfilm or digital versions of many of our collections. In addition, the MHS holds the microfiche editions of the Evans and the Shaw-Shoemaker Series of Early American Imprints. Whenever items are available in both manuscript and microform formats, researchers should request the surrogate copy (i.e., the microform version) within Portal1791.

The MHS has ScanPro 2000 workstations available for researchers working with microforms. The ScanPro allows researchers to create multi-page PDF files that can either 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 tables in the reading room.  At the discretion of a reference librarian, special arrangements can be made to accommodate research teams (i.e., groups of three or more) that must work together to complete a project. If you would like to schedule a group appointment, please review our group research policy and contact a reference librarian at 617-646-0532 or reference@masshist.org. 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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Seminar; Digital History Seminar; Online Event

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THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED The Nile travel diaries of Mrs. Emma B. Andrews are an important yet underutilized resource for the so-called “Golden Age” of ...

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The Province of Affliction: Illness and the Making of Early New England

28Jan 5:30PM 2021
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1Feb 5:30PM 2021
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Driving While Black demonstrates that the car—the ultimate symbol of independence and possibility— has always held particular importance for African Americans ...

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