Visiting Special Collections
Thanks to a century and a half of collecting and the kindness of donors the library is home to over 10,000 linear feet of historic books, manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, maps and other artifacts representing over four thousand years of human history and culture from around the world. We believe that those artifacts can enrich anyone’s life and our mission is to make sure everyone has a chance to access them.
We welcome everyone to use our collections.
Due to Covid-19 we are currently offering limited in-person appointments. We're also happy to provide reference services and reproductions of collection materials where possible, and we also offer virtual research services. Contact us for more information.
Before You Arrive:
Once you've made an appointment to visit Special Collections and registered through our online form, you can fill out our online form to request materials (one entry for each item, but you can fill them out as many times as you need). Be sure to wait for confirmation of your appointment before coming in for your visit.
Working With Special Collections:
Special Collections is located on the 3rd floor of the library. When you arrive we'll ask you to leave your coat, bag and other belongings in one of the lockers outside the reading room (view locker instructions here). You may bring pencils (no pens), paper, laptops and cameras into the reading room. You do need clean hands, so we'll ask you to visit the restroom around the corner to wash them (we encourage using hand sanitizer, but not directly before handling collection materials). You can find some general advice about handling materials in the reading room though this page (courtesy of Harvard Library).
The Library provides access to our collections online through our Digital Library, ProvLibDigital. If you would like a reproduction of an item not available from any of those sources, you can contact us for information about requesting a digital copy.
Newly-digitized images: $10
These fees represent the cost of acquiring a scan of an item; patrons are responsible for determining copyright status and negotiating with copyright holders when necessary. We encourage researchers to use their own cameras (after disabling flashes) to take photographs of collection items during their visits. There is no fee for researcher photographs. Photography of large portions of a collection may require the approval of the Special Collections Librarian or Rhode Island Collection Librarian. Flatbed scanners are not allowed.
All use of Rhode Island Collection images must credit the PPL in the following format: Photo Name, Photo Number, Rhode Island Collection, Providence Public Library, Providence, RI.
For all other collections, citations should provide the following: Call number or other identification, collection name (e.g. “Nicholson Collection”), “Providence Public Library Special Collections, Providence, RI”.
Unless otherwise requested, image files will be provided to the patron via Dropbox or over email for free. Patrons may provide an external hard drive or flash drive at their own expense or purchase a CD-ROM. Requests beyond 10 images require approval by the collection's curator and may include additional fee and processing time. Payment must be received by check or credit card upon receipt of invoice before image files will be provided. We reserve the right to refuse to scan materials that may be damaged during the scanning process. Any item requested for digital reproduction will be considered for addition to PPL’s publicly-available online collections.