The Boston Public Library, located in Copley Square, Boston, was the first large scale municipal library in the United States that was free to the public. More than 3.7 million people visit the library, that has a collection of more than 23 million items, annually.

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The Boston Public Library was established in 1848 and was the first large municipality library free to the public in the United States. The first building was inside of a former schoolhouse and opened its doors on March 20th, 1854 with a collection of 16,000 volumes. The same year, library commissioners were authorized to begin planning for a new facility. The library has had its home in Copley Square since 1895 and was completed by architect Charles Follen McKim who designed it to be a “palace for the people.”

The library soon expanded in the late 19th century with 21 more branches being added by 1900. Today, there are 24 branch libraries, the McKim building which houses the research library and the Johnson building where visitors will find the general circulation materials of the general library. The Johnson building also serves as headquarters for all branches of the Boston Library. There is also a map center, business library and content available through the online library. There are currently more than 23 million items in the library collection including rare books and manuscripts, musical scores, and art including first editions by William Shakespeare and original sheet music from Mozart.


The Boston Public Library is one of the largest libraries in the United States and is comprised of multiple buildings and 24 branches. The Central Library is in Copley Square with the McKim Building and Johnson building that were added to the library in 1972.

Central Library-This 10-level library, with one of the levels being underground, is the main building of the Boston library and is divided into the McKim Building and Johnson Building which are linked on three levels. Some of the standout features of the Central library include:

· Bates Hall- one of the most important rooms in the world when it comes to architecture, the Bates Hall features a barrel-arched ceiling with multiple domes, solid oak bookcases, a limestone balcony and is decorated with busts of prominent authors and famous Boston residents. The hall is found on the second floor of the library.

· The Chavannes Gallery- This gallery found in the McKim building was painted by renowned French painter, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. The walls are adorned with detailed murals that follow the grand staircase. There are 8 murals that represent “The Muses of Inspiration” from many disciplines including poetry and science.

· The Abbey Room- This room is found on the second floor of the McKim building and features murals from “Quest of the Holy Grail” by Edwin Austin Abbey, fames American painter. These murals tell the legend of King Arthur and features 15 life size panels depicting 150 figures.

· The Sargent Gallery- The murals in this gallery were painted by John Singer Sargent and is houses on the third floor. The murals tell the tale of how many world religions developed and is considered Sargent’s most important work.

The Johnson Building- This 10-level structure was added in 1972 to the McKim building. Four of the building levels are available to the public, a fifth level is for processing, and the upper floors are for research collection storage, utilities, and maintenance. The upper 5 floors of the Johnson Building are suspended from roof tresses, allowing for the maximization of space and eliminating the need for columns in the design. The Johnson building is home to the circulating volumes of the general library.

McKim Building- This building was designed to house the research library and non-circulating materials. The collections in the building include fine arts, Art in the Boston Public Library, Boston Architecture Reference File, Boston Picture File, New England Art Information File, and the Archives of the American Art Microfilm Collection. Appointments with 72 hours’ notice is suggested for viewing materials in the library.

Children’s Library- The Children’s library is a library within a library at the Central building. The space is designed with whimsical art that reflects the City of Boston. The collections in this library are meant for children in grades k-8 with many programs offered throughout the week.

Touring the Library- Daily tours of the library are offered for free by trained volunteers. These tours discuss the architecture and history of the library as well as the art within the library galleries. Tours start in the McKim Building are an hour in length. Private tours for groups of 8-60 people can be arranged with a 4-week notice and docent fees. School groups should contact the Boston Public Library for more information on field trips and educational planning.

Dining- There are three places to eat at the Central Library including the Courtyard Restaurant and Map Room Café located in the McKim building and the Newsfeed Café on the first floor of the Johnson building and where the WGBH satellite radio studio is located.

700 Boylston Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 02116, Phone: 617-536-5400

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