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Burns Library Collections



Burns Library collection descriptions

Burns Library collects aspects of Boston’s history, politics, and culture that complement the strengths of other regional repositories.

This collecting area was given initial impetus by Ellerton J. Brehaut, who donated a portion of his extensive Boston history collection to Boston College in 1965. A generous endowment established by John and Ruth Galvin in 2005 supports ongoing acquisitions.

Burns Library holds several dozen archival collections and nearly 5,000 published works pertaining to Boston and the Boston area, with concentrations in the categories outlined below. Materials pertaining to the Irish-American presence in Boston are described further in the Irish & Irish-American collection guide.

Architecture and Infrastructure

Business and Banking

Diaries and Journals


The desegregation of Boston Public Schools is documented through the records of the Citywide Coordinating Council and the Louise Bonar and Carol Wolfe collection of Boston education materials. Selections from the former have been digitized as part of multi-institutional Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) collection sponsored by the Boston Library Consortium.

Burns Library also holds records pertain to several schools of nursing in Boston, including its own.


Burns Library holds the papers of several US Congressional Representatives from Massachusetts, including Thomas P. O'Neill,  whose constituencies included wards in the city of Boston. Burns Library also holds archival collections pertaining to several Boston mayors of Irish descent (see also Irish & Irish American collections under "Irish Americans").

Religion and Society

Burns Library collects materials pertaining to Catholics and the Catholic Church in Boston.

Burns Library holds physical copies of selected years of The Pilot and its predecessors, America's oldest continually published Catholic newspaper and, since 1908, official organ of the Archdiocese of Boston. The BC Libraries are currently engaged in a multi-year project to systematically digitize as many pre-1908 issues as possible from multiple repositories; available issues are a linked from the Boston College Newspapers online collection.

Burns Library also houses a collection of some 1,400 volumes originally belonging to the First Church of Christ, Salem, one of oldest churches in North America. Titles range from the 16th to 19th century. A small but important collection of letters of Cotton Mather to Chief Justice William Stoughton pertain to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

Frequently requested collections include:


Police and Prisons


Burns Library holds an extensive collection of theater playbills, programs, and scrapbooks, primarily for theaters in Boston and New England but also for other regions of the United States, Europe, and Asia. Boston theaters and companies strongly represented in the materials include Boston Lyric Opera, Charles Playhouse, Colonial Theatre, Huntington Theatre Company, Shubert Theatre, Wang Center for the Performing Arts, and Wilbur Theatre, as well as the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA.