Reference Services

As of September 7, 2021, the library is open on a by-appointment basis*, and the Reader Services staff is in the building to assist with your questions. 

Here at our remote reference desk you will find a growing list of resources available digitally in a single, unified list. You can also find ways to contact the Reader Services staff if need additional assistance or cannot find what you are looking for her.

*See the Visiting the Library page for information about requesting an appointment.

Personal Assistance

The MHS library staff who can usually be found behind the reference desk at 1154 Boylston are also available to assist you with your remote research! Please don't hesitate to reach out for individualized assistance.

  • If you would like a member of the reference team to assist you by telephone please call 617-646-0532.
  • If you would like a member of the reference team to assist you by email please contact us at reference@masshist.org. A reference librarian will reply by email.
  • If you would prefer to use social media, you can reach a member of our reference team on Twitter @MHS1791_Ref or through the MHS Facebook page.
  • Or, take advantage of our new Virtual Reference and Chat Services to participate in a live chat with a reference librarian or request a face-to-face appointment via Zoom.

MHS Collections Available Online

The MHS provides digital access to our collections in a variety of ways through thematic resources, digital publication projects, digital content linked to collection guides, digitized public domain materials, and subscription databases. We will be updating this section regularly as we work to make resources available during the MHS closure period.

ABIGAIL Catalog Records with Digital Content

Many catalog records for single items contain links to digital versions of those items. A search in our online catalog ABIGAIL for the phrase "Click here to view this item" in quotation marks using the Keyword Anywhere search option will return over 950 items that have digital versions linked to their catalog entries.

Collection Guides with Digital Content

In recent years, the MHS has piloted full or partial digitization of manuscript and visual material collections using the online collection guides as a delivery system. Look for the blue digital content indicator next to the collection guide link and/or collection guide subsection as you browse in order to locate digital facsimiles.

MHS Publications

The MHS has been publishing since 1791 and many of its pre-1930 (public domain) publications are available full-text online.

  • Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Available through JSTOR free 1791-1924 (no login required). Available through JSTOR 1925-1997 with an individual or institutional login. Continued 1998-Present by Massachussetts Historical Review.
  • Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The MHS Collections, Series I-VII (vols. 1-70), vols. 71-78 are available full text through the Internet Archive.
  • Miscellaneous MHS publications pre-1930 digitized. A number of early MHS publications have been digitized and made available through HathiTrust and the Internet Archive. The above link is to a Google Documents spreadsheet with hyperlinks.
  • Rare books and pamphlets. The Massachusetts Historical Society holds copies of many rare print items that are in the public domain and have been digitized by other institutions. Library staff are currently working to provide links to as many of these print items as possible. In the meantime, We recommend searching Internet Archive and HathiTrust for any pre-1930 print items in our catalog.
    • Dowse Library. The library of Thomas Dowse was presented to the Society in 1856. You can view the 1870 print catalog of the Dowse Library here. To access our in-progress Google Documents spreadsheet of titles with links to digital surrogates available on the Internet Archive and/or HathiTrust click here. We will be updating this spreadsheet weekly on Fridays.

Thematic Online Resources

Visit our Online Resources portal to find a full slate of thematic resources range in type from interactive displays of entire collections to digital companion sites for past exhibitions.

Digital Documentary Editions

The MHS offers digital editions of several documentary publications projects:

Subscription Databases

The MHS collections can be found in subscription databases that may be available through other research libraries. Catalog records in ABIGAIL indicate whether a specific collection has been included in a subscription database. Evans and Shaw-Shoemaker call numbers indicate whether a print item may be found in the Early American Imprints series I and II. Below is a list of the subscription databases that contain MHS materials.

For an itemized list of all MHS collections represented in these databases (with the exception of Early American Imprints) click here.