Getting Started

What makes Special Collections special?

Materials collected and preserved by our department are often rare and unique – these materials cannot be easily replaced, if at all. The mission of the Special Collections & Archives Department is to preserve these materials so we can provide access to them now and in the future. To meet our mission, our physical collections do not circulate and must be used while onsite. Behind the scenes, we strive to house and store the collections to preservation standards to prolong use and access.

What kinds of topics do people research?

We welcome all kinds of research topics, though most fall into a few categories:

  • Genealogy and family history
  • House, building, and neighborhood history
  • Haverhill in wartime and Haverhill veterans
  • Historical Haverhill events
  • Famous Haverhill citizens
  • Shoemaking industry
  • Haverhill development from 1640 to today

What kinds of materials do we have?

Special Collections & Archives has all kinds of materials, from unique historical documents to Massachusetts Vital Records to maps to photographs. Our collections are filled with original and published print materials and photographs, as well as digitized images and newspapers on microfilm. We also maintain a comprehensive collection of John Greenleaf Whittier publications, including his own writing, biographies, and literature on Whittier’s abolitionism.

To see a selection of featured collections and items, click here:
Featured Resources & Collections

To browse our digitized collections online, click here:
Senter Digital Archive

Plan Your Visit

Hours and Appointments

Through we have recently expanded hours, Special Collections is open limited hours as we continue to undergo a restructuring and reorganization process to bring our policies and practices up to current archival standards. Our goal is to better serve researchers and to ensure the longevity of our collections. Special Collections has remained open to the public during this process to make materials accessible to researchers.

We encourage researchers to call before visiting, especially if traveling from a distance, which ensures that we have the Reading Room staffed and allows us to prepare materials ahead of time. Drop-ins are always welcome, too! Take note of Special Collections open hours (at right) and allow enough time for research. Checking in and working with the librarian to find and retrieve the appropriate collection materials takes time before researchers can dig in.

What to Expect When Visiting

The Special Collections & Archives Department is located on the Third Floor, accessible by elevator and stairwell during open hours.

Upon arrival, researchers are required to check in with the librarian at the front desk in the Reading Room. We do not require Haverhill Public Library cards to use Special Collections & Archives materials. We will, however, get your name and place of residence for our records. This information is needed for statistics and collection security; we do not keep permanent records on researchers for privacy reasons. We also ask each researcher to review and sign our Collection Use Policies form, which we keep on file for the current fiscal year only. The Collection Use Policies are also posted in the Reading Room.

Researchers are welcome to request specific materials, though the librarian will search for related materials and offer suggestions to every researcher. Not every research topic will be directly represented in the collections, though there are many materials that can be unexpectedly helpful. For example, there might not be a photograph of your historic home, but we can trace the deeds and find people associated with your address using databases and city directories.

Whittier Room Research Appointments

For scholars wishing to research John Greenleaf Whittier or to use the Whittier Collection, you may submit an appointment request to The Whittier Collection is kept in the Donald C. Freeman Whittier Room, which is located on the Second Floor of the library and is not open to the public. Appointments must be made in advance to ensure availability of staff members to manage your visit.

Non-Research Visitors

We welcome all to visit the Special Collections & Archives and take a look around! We also make the Reading Room available to Haverhill Public Library patrons who are looking for a quiet place to study on their own. To use Special Collections materials, however, we require check-in and a completed Collection Use Policies form.

Conducting Research

Requesting Materials

After checking in, the librarian will discuss the research topic with researcher to find appropriate materials. If the researcher has already identified items in the library catalog or finding aids, we will retrieve those materials, as well. Throughout the visit, researchers may request additional material and the librarian might find more for the researcher to view. Researchers may alert the librarian to set aside completed materials for return. Please do not return materials to shelves.

There is no limit on the amount of materials researchers may use during the visit, though keep in mind the limitations of time and space. Researchers may use only one box and folder at a time when viewing archival collections, to ensure the collection remains in the proper arrangement.

Using Archival Manuscript Collections

Archival manuscript materials and collections (i.e. documents, letters, news clippings, etc.) are arranged and described by archivists before being made available to researchers. The arrangement and description are combined to create a finding aid (or inventory) of each collection, which details the contents of the collection and where to find each listed item by box and folder numbers. For this reason, it is important to maintain the order of a collection in which it was given to the researcher. We provide paper markers for researchers to keep track of the placement of an item or folder in a collection.

All finding aids are available in PDF format and are posted on our website:
Search our Finding Aids

Taking Notes

We provide pencil and paper for researchers to take notes, though laptops and other devices are allowed. Researchers may take reference photos of collection materials to review later; please turn off flashes and avoid over-handling materials. We provide a scanner, as well. Consult with the librarian about your intended use of scanned material beforehand, as publishing or posting scanned materials requires a Permission to Use form and may incur usage fees.

Handling Fragile Materials

Historical collections can be difficult to handle due to deterioration and damage. We ask that all collection materials remain on the work surface, where they are properly supported. We also ask that researchers do not lean or place anything on top of collection materials, such as note-taking paper, cell phones, or other collection materials. Book supports, page weights, and magnifying glasses are available. We strive to protect our collection with proper enclosures, but will provide gloves for un-sleeved photographic materials and certain objects. Note that using clean, dry hands is appropriate for most paper-based materials.

Wrapping Up

Staff returns materials to storage when researchers finish and when Special Collections closes for the day. While there is no formal check out procedure, please let the staff know whether you are finished or returning later. Thank you for your visit!