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:

E-mail: library@masshist.org
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

History of Women, Gender and Sexuality Seminar

"For I'd Rather Be Dead Than Not to Dream of a Better World": Mae Gadpaille's Vision of the ...

21Jan 5:15PM 2020

In 1967, Mae Gadpaille, the director of a black Montessori preschool in Roxbury, faced displacement; the church that housed her school was slated to be cleared for an ...

Author Talk

The Puritans: A Transatlantic History

22Jan 6:00PM 2020
There is a pre-talk reception at 5:30.

David Hall presents a sweeping transatlantic history of Puritanism from its emergence out of the religious tumult of Elizabethan England to its founding role in the story ...

Biography Seminar

The Art of Family History: Visual Imagery, Family Narrative and Native American Modernism

23Jan 5:15PM 2020

Decades ago, historian Philip Deloria (Harvard University) found some drawings in the basement. These distinctive prints turned out to be the iconic work of his great ...

From our Blog

This Week @MHS

Join us for a program this week! Here is a look at what is going on: - Tuesday, 29 January, 5:15 PM: Better Teaching through Technology, 1945-1969, with Victoria Cain, Northeastern ...

Founder to Founder

Like so many good stories here at the Historical Society, it began with a reference question. Jeremy Belknap, hunting through his sources, asked Vice President John Adams for some help. Belknap, the ...

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