What to Expect

The MHS library is free and open to the public. All visitors wishing to use the library must create a user account in Portal1791; present a valid, government-issued photographic ID upon arrival (original only, no facsimiles); and be photographed by MHS staff.

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."

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

First-time Researchers

Before entering the library, all first-time researchers must create a personal account in Portal1791, the Society's automated request system. We recommend this be done in advance of your visit, but it can also be done at 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 registering and securing personal belongings, all first-time 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-stack, non-circulating library. Researchers place requests for materials using their Portal1791 account. Requests can be made directly from the online catalog, ABIGAIL, or from online collection guides. The Reader Services staff retrieves materials throughout the day up until 45 minutes before the library closes. 

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. Requests for offsite materials should be place via Portal1791. 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." 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 long-term preservation of manuscript materials the MHS provides microfilm or digital editions of many of our collections. The MHS also holds the microfiche edition of both the Evan and Shaw-Shoemaker Series of Early American Imprints. Whenever they exisit, reseachers should request the surrogate copy within Portal1791.  

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.

Upcoming Events

MHS Tour

The History and Collections of the MHS

20Jan 10:00AM 2018

The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, ...

History of Women and Gender Seminar

The "Woman Inventor" as a Political Tool of Female Suffragists: Patents, Invention, and Civil Rights ...

23Jan 5:30PM 2018
Location: Massachusetts Historical Society

After the Patent Act of 1790, patents played an important social and political role in the formation of American nationhood and citizenship. Part of a larger book ...


Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize Award & Reception

25Jan 6:00PM 2018
There will be a pre-talk reception at 5:30.

Please join us for a special evening in which Tamara Plakins Thornton will receive the 2017 Gomes Prize for Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers: How a 19th ...

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