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Rules & Regulations

To our members and visitors: Some rules may be affected by policies for operating the library safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please read our information page about the coronavirus, or contact the Membership team at 617-720-7604 or with your questions. Thank you!

Use of the Building

  • The Library is open to Proprietors, Life Members, and other members holding valid membership cards, and to other persons authorized by the Board of Trustees or the Director, under such restrictions as they may see fit.
  • All members must present their membership cards at the Security Desk upon entering.
  • Members holding Athenæum cards may bring guests to the Library, and must remain with them at all times. Non-members must be registered at the Security Desk and must be escorted if moving beyond the first floor.
  • Lost membership cards must be reported to the Membership Office immediately.
  • Passes will be issued to visitors, other than those described above, to see exhibitions and to visit the first floor only. Visitors may not use the collections. All other applications for the use of the Library should be made to the Director.
  • The collections are open to qualified guest researchers for short-term scholarly use by application to the Reference Department.
  • Backpacks, briefcases, handbags larger than 11 x 15 inches, packages, and similar items are not permitted beyond the vestibule. Members and visitors are responsible for storing such items in the complimentary, key-operated day lockers located in the vestibule. Limited storage space may be available for items too large to fit into a locker; please ask a security guard for assistance. Clear plastic bags are available to hold personal belongings (such as wallets, notebooks, and laptop computers) carried into the building. All articles are subject to inspection. A replacement fee of $100 will be assessed for any lost key.
  • Works of art brought into the building must be escorted by a curator.
  • Members who bring dogs into the Library must keep them on leashes and are responsible for their behavior. Dogs (with the exception of guide dogs) are not allowed at public events or in the exhibition galleries.
  • The Boston Athenæum permits flash-free photography with some restrictions. Tripods and selfie sticks are not permitted. Photography is not permitted in the Gordon Newspaper Room, or during events. Additional permission may be granted on a case by case basis.  Visit the "plan your visit" section for additional details.
  • All reading rooms and stack areas, except the Special Collections stacks, are freely open to all persons authorized to use the Library. Readers are asked to leave books upon the tables rather than to reshelve them.
  • Non-Athenæum materials may be stored in lockers (subject to availability). Everything so stored will be stored at the risk of the owner. Anything not stored must be removed from the building at the end of the day.
  • Smoking is not allowed in the Library, or on its terraces, or in front of the building.
  • During the warm months and during daylight hours, readers may eat on the second- and fifth-floor terraces. Food is not permitted in other areas of the building at any time, except during special events with the exception of the Members’ Lounge on the 5th Floor. Beverages in closed containers are allowed. Food and drink are never permitted in the art galleries.
  • Members and visitors are required to silence their cell phones upon entering the building; texting and internet use is allowed as long as the ringer is off and the user is not speaking into ​the phone.​ Speakers must be silenced on all electronic devices, including cell phones. Cell phone calls are permitted in the​ main vestibule or in one of the two phone booths located on the first floor near the restrooms.
  • Visitors to floors other than the first must be escorted by members of the staff.
  • The temperature of the Library will be kept as nearly as possible at 68-72°.
  • Conversation is forbidden on the fifth-floor in the Reading Room.
  • Members may not use the Library to conduct business and personal meetings.
  • The internet may not be used to access illegal or inappropriate sites.
  • All persons using the Library are expected to conduct themselves in a quiet, civil, and courteous manner.
  • The Director may temporarily suspend all privileges of membership for just cause. The Director will report any such suspension of privileges to the Standing Committee, which may continue the suspension either temporarily or permanently, reporting the suspension at the next meeting of the Board of Trustees for its approval.

Use of the Books

  • Readers are free to go to the open shelves if they wish to do so. Access to the online catalog, written guides, and floor plans indicating the detailed location of the various subjects is available throughout the building.
  • Every reader taking out a book must present an active membership card at the Circulation Desk. Non-members picking up books for members must have the member’s card.  All books must be returned to the Circulation Desk.
  • The Library may restrict the circulation of books to such number of days as seems expedient, and may limit the number of books that may be taken out at one time.  The Library will specify the time for which such permission is granted, and will levy a fine for each volume kept out beyond such time.
  • Current issues of newspapers and periodicals are available on tables in the first-floor Newspaper Reading Room, on the second floor, and in the Art Department, and do not circulate. Back issues may be requested.
  • New books are shelved for six months in the bow room on the first floor and in the Art Department. New Books are usually restricted in circulation to fourteen days. A new book may not be renewed if another request for it is on file before its due date.
  • Other books may normally be taken out for 60 days, and renewed for a second 60 days unless another request is on file before the due date. If such a request is received, the Library will notify the borrower, and if the book is not returned within seven days of such notice will levy a fine for each day it is overdue; fines start day 1. Notices for the recall of overdue books are sent out regularly. Habitual failure to return overdue books promptly may result in suspension of Library privileges.
  • Readers may request that they be notified when books charged out to another reader have been returned. The Library will notify the applicant as soon as such a book is returned, and will reserve it for them.
  • Books may be sent by mail at the discretion of the Library. Bills will be sent covering the expenses of mailing and shipping. Books being returned must be carefully wrapped and the postage prepaid. A printed label permitting a special library book rate is enclosed with the books for the convenience of the borrower returning books. The Library may decline to send books too large, too fragile, or too valuable.
  • Every book should be returned in good condition. If any book is lost or damaged, or if any notes, comments, or other matter are written or in any manner inserted therein, the person to whom it stands charged must pay all charges for its replacement, or for a set if it belongs to a set, plus an extra charge for cataloging the replacement.
  • Suggestions for new book acquisitions may be made online or entered in the Request Book. A copy of a book review will be of assistance to the Book Selection Committee. When a book is purchased in accordance with such a request, the Library will reserve it and promptly contact the applicant.
  • Every reasonable effort will be made to supply photocopies, photographs, microfilms, or digital scans of material needed for scholarly projects. The applicant is responsible for all associated costs.
  • Requests for permission to publish material from the collections must be made separately in writing to the appropriate curator.
  • Only staff members with authorization may enter the Special Collections rooms. Material from these collections may be consulted by appointment in the Vershbow Special Collections Reading Room and only in the presence of a staff member.
  • Materials stored at the Athenæum’s deposit facilities may be requested from the Reference Department; every effort will be made to retrieve this material promptly.