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. The tour gives an introduction to the major collections of the Rare Book Department and its history, highlighting ancient cuneiform, medieval manuscripts, early printed incunables, and literary treasures of Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Beatrix Potter, and others. The tour also includes an introduction to Grip, the taxidermied raven of Charles Dickens, and a visit to the historic Elkins Library, the actual library of a former Free Library Trustee who was also a prominent book collector (Learn more about William Elkins). The tour takes approximately one hour and no prior notification is necessary for individuals or small groups. Photographs without flash are permitted.

Group Visits and Educational Programs

Larger group tours are available by prior arrangement. 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 to researchers by appointment from 9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for legal holidays. As the space is small and demand can be high, we ask researchers to please be prompt for their appointments. 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 encourages the use of its collections 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, 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 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 loose notes or paper you might need.

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

Laptops, Cameras, and Phones

Laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones are allowed and WiFi is available. There is a wired computer with internet access in the study also 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. Please set all cell phones to "silent" mode when visiting the Rare Book Department.

We encourage you to bring your camera, and photography is permitted (without flash) for your research use. Please speak to a staff member if you're interested in reproducing images from our collection materials, and staff will help you determine your reproduction needs (if any).

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