Reference Services

The Reader Services staff is available to answer questions regarding the Society’s holdings, to help with developing research strategies, and to provide reproduction services. The staff offers support to both researchers visiting the library (on-site reference) and researchers contacting the library from a distance (off-site reference). 

 Onsite Reference

Visitors to the library have direct access to our Reader Services staff, who assist all visiting researchers with questions regarding use of library resources, navigation of our catalogs and databases, reproduction of library materials, and requests for materials from offsite storage. 

  Offsite Reference

Researchers unable to visit the library in person can submit queries by email, postal mail, or telephone.  All queries are answered in the order received. Due to the large volume of queries we receive, it can take up to two weeks to receive an initial response from the Reader Services staff. 

The Reader Services staff provides access to library materials by directing researchers to online content, supplying reproductions, and when possible arranging inter-library loan and/or purchase of collections available on microfilm. The reference staff also can assist researchers with identifying collections of interest, developing research strategies, and in some cases identifying other repositories holding relevant material.

While the Reader Services staff strives to provide the best and most helpful information regarding research using the MHS collections, please note that we cannot survey collections or engage in original or genealogical research for patrons who cannot visit the society. 

For information regarding our reference reproduction policies and procedures, or purchasing microfilm and high resolution scans please see Reproductions Services.

Before contacting the reference staff please investigate our online catalog, ABIGAIL, and our online collection guides. These resources may lead you directly to information about collections containing material pertinent to your research.

Submitting Reference Questions by email, mail, or telephone

When submitting reference queries include your name and contact information, an explanation of your project or specific research interests, and a clear statement of your question(s) for the MHS staff.  It is also helpful to inform the staff about sources you have previously consulted (institutions, books, collections, websites, etc.) when appropriate. 

Address your questions to:

Phone: (617) 646-0532
Fax: (617) 859-0074

Mail: Reference Librarian
Massachusetts Historical Society
1154 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02215

All reference queries are answered in the order they are received. Please note that the staff receives thousands of queries each year and it may take up to two weeks for the staff to respond to your query.

Upcoming Events

canceled History of Women and Gender Seminar

On Fantasy

20Mar 5:30PM 2018
Location: Fay House, Radcliffe Institute

This program is canceled due to illness. This paper argues that fantasies of racial and gendered mastery—seen in law, racial performance, and sexual violence&mdash ...

Author Talk

People before Highways: Boston Activists, Urban Planners, & A New Movement for City Making

20Mar 6:00PM 2018
There will be a pre-talk reception at 5:30.

In 1948, inspired by changes to federal law, Massachusetts officials started to plan highways circling and cutting through the heart of Boston. But when officials began ...

Brown Bag

From Corporate Charter to Modern Constitution: Massachusetts Transformations

21Mar 12:00PM 2018

The U.S. Constitution is not a “social contract,” but a popularly issued corporate charter.  America’s constitutional innovations&mdash ...

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