Massachusetts Historical Society

What to Expect


Researchers are strongly encouraged to request an appointment in advance of arriving at the MHS. A Portal1791 account is required to book an appointment.

Researchers with confirmed appointments will be guaranteed a seat in the reading room on their appointment date(s). Walk-in researchers will be accommodated if space allows.

Researcher Registration

All researchers must create a user account in Portal1791 in order to book an appointment, request reproductions, or place a request to view materials at the MHS.

First-time Researchers

In order to request an appointment, first-time researchers should create a Portal1791 account prior to visiting the MHS. Upon arrival at the MHS, researchers 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. Please include 30 minutes for completing registration and receiving an orientation when booking your appointment.

For information about what items may be brought into the library and which must be secured in a locker, visit our "What to Bring" page.

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.

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

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

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 visit 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 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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