Special Collections


Established in 1852, the New Bedford Free Public Library is among the earliest free municipal libraries in the United States. The core of the library’s original holdings contained books, periodicals and other materials purchased from the New Bedford Social Library (founded in 1807), which had assimilated the collections of the Encyclopedia Society, New Bedford Library Society, New Bedford Athenaeum and Lyceum.

Envisioned by librarian Robert C. Ingraham as a permanent repository for local history and art, the Special Collections Department emerged to preserve for future generations those materials of historical and/or aesthetic value. Since 1866, the library has amassed extensive holdings of printed works, manuscripts, graphics, fine art and objects used for research, exhibit and educational purposes.

The art collection is on public view at the Main Library and also showcased in City Gallery exhibits at the New Bedford Art Museum.

Access to Special Collections is provided on the 3rd floor, Main Library. Hours may change due to staffing; please contact the department to confirm the schedule.

If your research needs require dedicated assistance, we advise contacting the department prior to your visit. Requests for archival materials require advance notice for preparation.

For departmental reference assistance, visit Ask a Librarian / nbmhistory@sailsinc.org

Paul A. Cyr History Room
Monday & Tuesday: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Wednesday & Thursday: 1:00pm – 9:00pm
Friday & Saturday: Limited hours
(508) 991-6276 / jgoodman@sailsinc.org

Art Room
Monday & Thursday: 12:00pm – 9:00pm

Tuesday & Wednesday: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Friday & Saturday: Limited hours
(508) 979-1787 / jhodson@sailsinc.org

Explore Our Collections

To search for printed items, visit the SAILS e-catalog
Enter a keyword into the search box and look for ‘SPCL’ in the results; use sidebar options to narrow the results by format, author and/or subject.

To search or browse the art and historic objects, graphics, manuscripts, and printed collections, visit the Special Collections catalog
The special collections catalog is an active work in progress; records will continue to be added and updated as cataloging advances.

To search or browse our digital collections, visit Digital Commonwealth
Search by Institution: ‘New Bedford Free Public Library’

Art and Objects
The art collection contains 317 paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and historic objects, as well as approximately 1,800 prints and drawings, by artists of national and regional importance.  Exhibitions and the acquisition of art have been integral functions of the New Bedford Free Public Library since construction of its first library building in 1857, when a rising young New Bedford artist named Albert Bierstadt exhibited a number of his paintings there.

Today, the art collection includes work by John James Audubon, Albert Bierstadt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, William Bradford, Ralph Fasanella, Thomas Crawford, Dodge Macknight, Bela Pratt, Robert Swain Gifford and many others.  In addition, the art collection has significant holdings of Japanese woodblock prints, early twentieth century travel posters, and work by early American engravers.

The graphics collection contains photographs, rotogravures, architectural drawings, atlases, maps, postcards, ephemera, and audiovisual materials.

The manuscript collection contains hand-written and unpublished typescript materials, including personal papers, early town and municipal records, business records, church records, military records, and records from civic organizations and social clubs.

The printed collection contains collections of published works, including books, pamphlets, periodicals, and newspapers.