Rare Book Department

Services and hours are subject to change — please call in advance. Before you visit, please review our new COVID-19 guidelines.

Tuesday, July 6 – Message from Staff

"For the Greatest Number: The New Deal Revisited" is on view in the William B. Dietrich Gallery (Rare Book Department, Third Floor) through February 4.

Tuesday, October 26 – Message from Staff

The Rare Book Department will be closed Wednesday, October 27 due to building issues. Thank you for your understanding. We will reopen tomorrow. 
Thank you,

1901 Vine Street, Third Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Open today 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sunday Closed
Monday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Tuesday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Wednesday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Thursday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Friday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday Closed

Upcoming Closures

  • Thu., Nov. 11 : Closed Veterans Day
  • Thu., Nov. 25 : Closed Thanksgiving Day
  • Sat., Dec. 25 : Closed Christmas Day
View all holiday closings

Upcoming Events

Scary and Not So Scary Literary Treats In the Rare Book Department, Free Library of Philadelphia

Fri, October 29, 2021 3:00 P.M.

Treat yourself to rarely seen artifacts in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Items to be shown include: a signed confession by Abigail Hobbes during the Salem…

The Pledge to the People: Artifacts from the New Deal

Tue, November 2, 2021 2:00 P.M.

View rarely seen primary source documents published by the federal government as part of the New Deal! As a presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, Franklin Delano Roosevelt pledged a new…

What Should a *New* New Deal Be?

Mon, November 8, 2021 7:00 P.M.

The "New Deal" is now shorthand for the wide-ranging federal investment in the 1930s in work relief programs, infrastructure spending, regulatory reforms, and economic and community…

Five Christmases with Charles Dickens

Mon, December 13, 2021 3:00 P.M.

The Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia invites you to celebrate Five Christmases with Dickens. While Charles Dickens  did not invent Christmas his works influenced…

October 27, 2021

The Rare Book Department will be closed on October 27 due to building issues. We apologize for the inconvenience. We will return to our regular hours on Thursday, October 28.  
Thank you,


The Rare Book Department is open!  Gallery hours are 9:00 - 5:00 p.m. Monday - Friday. Free tours of the collections are given daily, starting at 11:00 a.m. Our reading room is available by prior appointment only from 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. 

NEW! Currently in person programs at Parkway Central, including our group visits and tours, are limited to ten patrons only.

Who We Are and What We Do

The Rare Book Department offers free access to exhibitions of historically important books, manuscripts, and works of art from 3,000 BCE to today. Among its collections are thousands of illuminated medieval manuscripts and cuttings; first editions, letters, and manuscripts of important writers, including some of the largest collections of Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe; nearly 50,000 early American children's books; original artwork by Beatrix Potter and other illustrators; Mughal court paintings; and Pennsylvania German fraktur, manuscripts, and printed books. Many, but not all, of the Rare Book Department's holdings have been cataloged or inventoried, but please feel free to contact us for more information about our holdings.

Group visits and educational programs are available by prior arrangement and researchers are invited to make an appointment to use collection materials. Guided tours of the department and the William McIntire Elkins Library are offered Monday through Saturday at 11:00 a.m. with no appointment necessary. For our friends on social media, highlights from our collections are regularly posted to our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. We also have a podcast series, Story Search from Special Collections, available on Anchor or Spotify, with accompanying booklists. You can reach the Rare Book Department at 215-686-5416 or by email, or check out some of our most frequently asked questions.

Researchers and Use of the Collections

We welcome all researchers, with rare limits set on access for our most delicate objects. Advance appointments are required, with the reading room available Monday - Friday, 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Our collections are large, so we ask that you let us know in advance of your appointment which materials you plan to use (or chat with us about the scope of your research project).

To make an appointment, please call 215.686.5416 or email erefrbd@freelibrary.org. 

Researchers are not able to bring most of your personal belongings into the reading room. We have a cloakroom and lockers at the entrance where you can freely and securely store your coats, umbrellas, bags and purses, and food and drink (including water). You are welcome to bring a laptop, camera, or notebook, but pencils only please!

Feel free to take photographs (without flash) of anything you use, but we ask that you coordinate with us directly if you wish to publish images from our collection. We do not charge reproduction fees but can assist with higher-quality imaging. For researchers interested in watermarks, restoration, etc., we have a light sheet and a UV lamp available but please let our staff know your needs in advance.