Special Collections

Special Collections enhance the educational mission of the Free Library by assembling and making accessible historic materials, providing reliable and knowledgeable research services, and offering instructional programs that promote understanding of our shared cultural heritage. Many items in Special Collections are searchable in the public catalog, through Finding Aids, or in our Digital Collections. Please contact the collections for further details.

Automobile Reference Collection
One of the largest libraries of automotive literature in the world, the collection offers a comprehensive record of automotive history, including technical manuals, sales literature, photographs, books, and periodicals.

Children's Literature Research Collection
The collection houses more than 85,000 non-circulating books published from 1837 to the present with an emphasis on juvenile books associated with the Pennsylvania region and archives of local children's authors and illustrators.

Map Collection
With more than 130,000 current and historical maps the collection covers every part of the world. Its special emphasis on Philadelphia and Pennsylvania maps and atlases provides a fascinating view of the development of our region over the past 70 years.

Music Collections
The Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music represents the largest lending library of orchestral performance material in the world, housing more than 22,000 titles and continuing to grow. Additional music holdings include two other circulating collections, the Chamber Music Collection and the Drinker Collection of Choral Music, as well as an exceptional collection of Sheet Music numbering 350,000 items.

Print and Picture Collection
The collection is home to fine art prints, photographs, drawings, and artists' books, as well as extensive research collections of Philadelphia images. The circulating picture collection contains a wide variety of images, available for checkout to Free Library cardholders.

Rare Book Department
One of the largest and most diverse collections in a public library, the Department offers free public access to a rotating series of exhibitions. Its holdings represent the history of written communication from ancient beginnings to the present day.

Theatre Collection
With a special focus on Philadelphia, the collection contains research materials on the history of American theatre, early film, and popular entertainment. Resources chronicle theatre locally, with playbills dating back to 1803.

The Rosenbach
The Rosenbach is a rare book library and museum that has been formally affiliated with the Free Library since 2013. Located near Parkway Central, it maintains world-class collections of rare books and manuscripts, as well as fine and decorative arts. Like all of the special collections at the Free Library, the Rosenbach offers tours, programs, exhibitions, and research.