The Rare Book Department is located on the third floor of Parkway Central. Hours are 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with tours of the General Collections beginning daily at 11:00 a.m.

1901 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Daily Tours – 11 a.m.

The 11 a.m. tour of the Rare Book Department has been in operation since 1949. Rare book librarians on staff provide a basic introduction to the history of the book using the items from the collections, including cuneiform tablets, a section of a papyrus scroll, a medieval manuscript and a leaf from a Gutenberg Bible. The tour also includes a visit to our Elkins Room, the actual library of a former Free Library Trustee who was also a prominent book collector (Learn more about William Elkins). The tour takes from 45 minutes to one hour and no prior notification is necessary for individuals or small groups.

Group Visits and Educational Programs

Group tours are available by prior arrangement only. Guests are seated for a presentation of the history of the book using items from our collections. We ask that groups be limited to 15 in order to benefit from a close up and personal experience.

We also offer specialized class visits based upon the strengths of our collections. Instructors are invited to schedule a research visit prior to the class visit, in order to select items they would like the class to see. For more information on educational programs, please call 215.686.5416 or email


The Reading Room

The Reading Room is available for research from 9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for legal holidays. Readers are not admitted to the Reading Room after 4:30 p.m.

Readers who wish to use the Department's collections may have access subject to the following rules and regulations:


The function of the Reading Room is to serve readers needing to consult the Department's rare materials. The Rare Book Department's holdings do not circulate. The Free Library makes these items accessible for research within the limits set by their rarity and fragility. Our policies and procedures have been established to ensure that these irreplaceable materials will continue to be available for use by future generations.

In order for the staff to assist the reader in his/her research, the reader is requested to state as specifically as possible the subject upon which he/she is engaged and the purpose for which specific materials must be examined. Because space in the Reading Room is limited, appointments should be made at least one day in advance.

To make an appointment, please call 215.686.5416 or email

What to bring when you have an appointment

Please store the following items in the cloakroom at the entrance: outer garments, umbrellas, newspapers, food/beverages, cameras, scanners, briefcases, book bags, backpacks, large handbags, laptop bags, scotch tape, glue, and scissors. Please bring pencils and any notes or paper you might need.

Food and drink are not permitted. This includes bottled water, gum, cough drops, and hard candy.


Although laptop computers are allowed, the Rare Book Department does not currently have access to the wireless internet. There is a wired computer with internet access in the study available for use, and there are electrical outlets for your laptop should you need them. Laptop bags or cases must be stored in the cloakroom.

Cell phones

Cell phones are permitted. However, in order to avoid disturbing others, please turn off or "silence" all cell phones, pagers, and other messaging devices when you are visiting the Rare Book Department.

Cameras and scanners

Personal digital cameras are allowed in the reading rooms, subject to the Rare Book Department's copyright ownership of images made of its collections. The flash must be disabled.

Scanners and other photo duplication equipment may not be used in the study.


Our FAQs may help to address any unanswered questions you may have.

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