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Accessibility Guide

Contents

Introduction

The Boston Athenaeum welcomes people of all abilities as visitors and members.

We are currently renovating and expanding the building. Due to construction, the physical environment at the library is subject to change on short notice.

Please contact Member and Visitor Services Coordinator Thomas James or Kate Smails at membership@bostonathenaeum.org or 617-720-7604 if you need accommodations, are seeking information beyond the scope of this guide, or see anything in the guide that needs to be updated.

This guide was last updated June 22, 2022.

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Library Resources and Services

Many library members and visitors find it helpful to consult with our Reference and Circulation staff to identify and locate books and other library materials. Contact Reference Librarians Mary Warnement, Carolle Morini, or Elizabeth O'Meara at reference@bostonathenaeum.org or 617-720-7658.

Borrowers at the library may:

  • Find and pull their own circulating books from the shelves
  • Request help from a librarian in locating and pulling circulating books from the shelves
  • Contact Jim Feeney or Arnold Serapilio at circulation@bostonathenaeum.org or 617-227-0270 x301 to request a book for pick-up at the Circulation Desk

Borrowers may also use our book mailing service:

  • Contact Jim Feeney or Arnold Serapilio at circulation@bostonathenaeum.org or 617-227-0270 x301 to request a book
  • Outgoing postage is covered by the library, the borrower is responsible for return postage
  • A return mailing label is included with the book

In addition to print books, the library offers eBooks and eAudiobooks through the CloudLibrary app.

The Arthur & Charlotte Vershbow Special Collections Reading Room is physically accessible and has:

  • Table lamps
  • Wooden chairs with seat cushions, arms, and slatted backs
  • Wooden work tables
  • Magnifying glasses on request

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Programs

We are holding most of our programs virtually during our renovation and expansion. Auto-generated captions are available for most virtual programs. To request live captioning, ASL interpretation, or other accommodations, please contact Hannah Weisman at education@bostonathenaeum.org or 617-720-7617 at least four business days prior to the event.

We offer five in-person tours each week. Tour guides speak without amplification. Tour groups typically use a combination of stairs and elevators to navigate through the building. Tour guides can switch to using elevators only as needed. Visitors can indicate their need for elevator use at the time of registration.

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Service Animals

Service animals are welcome.

The Athenaeum also welcomes well-behaved pet dogs on leash.

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Physical Accessibility

As part of its historic character, the Boston Athenaeum has several different types of physical environments with varying levels of accessibility.

Building Layout

The library has:

  • 7 main floors (including two basement levels)
  • 5 open gallery or mezzanine levels
  • 2 terraces
  • A 10-story, semi-circular set of book stacks called the Drum
  • 2 elevators
  • 4 stairwells
  • 1 set of accessible, gender-specific restrooms
  • 3 accessible, single-occupancy, all-gender restrooms
Flooring
  • Most floors are linoleum with low-pile area rugs, unless otherwise noted below
  • Gallery levels have glass tile floors
Doors
  • Doorways are at least 36 inches wide, unless otherwise noted below
  • There are no power-assisted doors or automatic door openers
Elevators

There are 2 elevators:

  • Elevator 1 is closest to the front of the building (north, or Beacon Street side)
    • It goes between the basement and the 5th floor, including all the gallery levels in between
  • Elevator 2 is closest to the back of the building (south, or Granary Burying Ground side)
    • It goes between Lower Pilgrim (sub-basement, button labeled "SR") and the 2nd floor
    • It has front and rear doors
      • Front door opens on basement (B), 1, and 2
      • Rear door opens on Lower Pilgrim (SR) and Upper Pilgrim (BR)
  • Both elevators are wheelchair accessible
  • Both elevators have buttons in Braille
Stairwells

There are 4 stairwells:

  • The main stairwell is located between the elevators on the west side of the building
    • It goes between the basement and the 5th floor
    • Steps are gray marble
    • There is a handrail on the entire staircase
    • Doorways from the stairwell are 34 inches wide
    • Doors open out from the stairwell onto the floor, except on level 2G, where the door opens into the stairwell
  • The secondary stairwell is located on the north, or Beacon Street side, of the building
    • It goes between the 2nd floor and the 5th floor
    • Steps are metal with a black non-slip tread
    • There is a handrail on some sections, but not all
  • A third stairwell is located on the south side, or Granary Burying Ground side, of the building
    • It goes between Upper Pilgrim (basement) and Lower Pilgrim (sub-basement)
    • Doors open into the stairwell
  • A fourth stairwell is located on the east end of the building inside the Drum
    • It goes between the basement level and the top of the Drum
    • Steps are dark gray stone
    • There is a handrail
    • Stairwell has low light
Bookshelves
  • Books are shelved floor to ceiling, including on the gallery levels
  • Shelves in the basement and Lower Pilgrim are movable, compact shelving
    • Compact shelves open to varying widths, ranging from 32 inches to 48 inches
  • There is a 3 inch gap between the bottom of the bookshelves and the floor in the Drum stacks
Library Furniture

There is a variety of furniture throughout the library, including:

  • Wooden chairs with arms, cushioned seats, and slatted backs
  • Wooden chairs with slatted back but without arms
  • Wooden library tables
  • Armchairs
  • Step stools
Front Entrance

The Athenaeum's front entrance is closed during construction.

Please enter at 14 Beacon Street and use the touchpad to be welcomed into the building:

  • Press the touchpad
  • Press "Directory"
  • Press "Boston Athenaeum"
  • Press "Call"
  • A security officer will either unlock the door remotely or come open the door
    • The call connects by voice and camera, so you can speak to the security officer if necessary
  • Doors open out to the street and have a pull bar to open
  • Hallway has a slight incline
  • Hallway is carpeted and then turns to linoleum (no rug)
  • Hallway leads to the Bow Room on the first floor

Watch a short video tour of our temporary entrance.

First Floor, Bow Room
  • The library's Membership and Circulation desks are located in the Bow Room during construction
First Floor, Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery
  • This space is closed during construction
First Floor, Henry Long Room
  • This space is closed during construction
First Floor, Bornheimer Room
  • This space is closed during construction
First Floor, Gordon Newspaper Reading Room
  • This space is closed during construction
1G (First Floor Gallery)
  • Narrowest point of the gallery is 19 inches wide
  • Railing is 32 inches high
  • Doorway leading into the Henry Long Room has a raised threshold
  • Gallery space above Gordon Newspaper Reading Room is 32 inches wide
  • To access the Seminar Room, please take Elevator 1 (on the north or Beacon Street side of the building)
  • The Seminar Room has large cushioned chairs which can be pushed under the table to create at least 38 inches wide passageway around the central table
Second Floor
  • Accessible, all-gender, single-occupancy restroom
  • The Arthur & Charlotte Vershbow Special Collections Reading Room has double doors which can be opened if a wider doorway is required
  • The terrace door has a 3 inch raised threshold and 3 steps down
  • Terrace door opens outwards
2G (Second Floor Gallery)
  • Narrowest point of the gallery is 22 inches wide
  • Railing is 32 inches high
Third Floor
  • Accessible, all-gender, single-occupancy restroom
  • Narrowest point is 33 inches wide in between bookshelves
3G (Third Floor Gallery)
  • Narrowest point of the gallery is 20 inches wide
  • Railing is 30 inches high
Fourth Floor
  • Accessible, all-gender, single-occupancy restroom
  • Narrowest point is 31 inches wide in between bookshelves
  • Doorway into Trustees’ Room is 27 inches wide with a raised marble threshold
  • Double doors can be opened if a wider doorway is required
4G (Fourth Floor Gallery)
  • Narrowest point of the gallery is 21 inches wide
  • Railing is 30 inches high
Fifth Floor
  • Door into the Members’ Lounge is 32 inches wide
  • Door onto the terrace is 24 inches wide with 1 step up (8 inches high) and 3 inch high threshold
5G (Fifth Floor Gallery)
  • Narrowest point of the gallery is 21 inches wide
  • Railing is 35 inches high
  • There is no elevator access to 5G
Lower Pilgrim (SR)
  • Door from the elevator vestibule opens inwards
  • Floors are linoleum (no rugs)
  • This floor has movable, compact shelving
  • There is a phone to call a librarian for help, if needed
Upper Pilgrim (BR)
  • Door from the elevator vestibule opens into the reading room
Basement (B)
  • Floor into the stacks is ramped upwards from elevator
  • This floor has movable, compact shelving as well as fixed bookshelves
  • The floor is uneven and in some areas between the stacks there are small steps
Drum
  • Entrances to the Drum are located in the basement and on levels 2 and 3 (after renovation the entrance on level 1 will reopen)
  • There are 3 levels for every main floor
    • In-between levels are called "down" or "up" and can only be reached by stairs inside the Drum
  • Glass walkways that are 21 inches wide at their narrowest
  • 3" gap between the walkways and the bookshelves
  • Doors into the Drum range in width from 32 inches wide to 35 inches wide
  • Doors open into the Drum
  • Ceilings have inconsistent heights and are very low in some places
  • Stairs between levels of the Drum are metal
Basement Drum
  • There is 1 step down (4 inches high) from basement level to enter the Drum
  • This area has uneven, brick flooring
  • The ceiling is low

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Contacts

To request information beyond the scope of this guide or see anything in the guide that needs to be updated, contact:
Thomas James or Kate Smails at membership@bostonathenaeum.org or 617-720-7604

To request help identifying, locating, and reserving books, contact:
Mary Warnement, Carolle Morini, or Elizabeth O'Meara at reference@bostonathenaeum.org or 617-720-7658
Jim Feeney or Arnold Serapilio at circulation@bostonathenaeum.org or 617-227-0270 x301

To request accommodations for programs, contact:
Hannah Weisman at education@bostonathenaeum.org or 617-720-7617

To request help at the front entrance, contact:
Merlin Louine, Bruno Faria, Irwin Torres, or Scott Gurley at security@bostonathenaeum.org or 617-227-0270 x222

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