Visiting Special Collections

Thanks to a century and a half of collecting and the kindness of donors the Library is home to more than 10,000 linear feet of historic books, manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, maps and other artifacts representing more than 4,000 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. Whether you're interested in doing research, bringing in a class or tour, or just stopping by to see interesting stuff, we look forward to your visit.

We welcome everyone to use our collections.

Special Collections is open by appointment, primarily during the Library's Tuesday-Thursday hours. Contact us to set up an appointment.

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 (unless you're planning to visit during the standing open hours).

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).

We want our materials to be available to visitors long into the future, so we take a number of steps to make sure collections are safe and handled carefully. Our reading room is monitored by staff anytime it is open to the public, and we use security cameras in the reading room and stacks. We ask all researchers to make sure their hands are clean and to place any pens, food or beverages in the lockers outside the reading room. Any jackets or sweaters brought into the reading room must be worn (not draped over chairs), and the reading room attendant may ask researchers to maintain a space between their belongings and collection material. Staff will instruct and are on hand to assist researchers in how to handle materials.

You can find some general advice about handling materials in the reading room though this page (courtesy of Harvard Library).

Equipment Available in the Reading Room:

We're happy to make the following equipment available to visitors:

  • Camera Stand (adjustable to a height of 35") with attachments for phones and tablets in addition to the standard camera mount screw
  • Three portable lights on tripods
  • One Hovercam Solo 8 document camera (visit the Hovercam website for specifications and software downloads) available for document scanning, with priority access for those with limited vision. The American Foundation for the Blind maintains a list of screen readers applications (including the open source NVDA application) and other assistive technologies that visitors may want to consider installing.
  • One Nikon D3300 camera with 18-55mm zoom lens (we recommend visitors bring their own SD card, although a USB card reader is available in the reading room)
  • Pencils (lots of pencils)
  • Magnifying glasses and loupe




General Inquiries
For areas of specific interest, you’re welcome to contact Special Collections staff directly.


Jordan Goffin
Director of Special Collections
Kate Wells
Curator of Rhode Island Collections
Audrey Buhain
Reading Room Attendant
Online access to selected materials

Reproduction Policies

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.

Fees images: FREE
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.

Terms of Use

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 online dropbox or over email for free. Patrons may provide an external hard drive or flash drive at their own expense. 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.

US Copyright Warning: The copyright law of the United States (title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specific conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be “used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research.” If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of “fair use,” that user may be liable for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law.