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Heritage Quest

Special Collections & Archives

Portland Public Library is the major research and preservation resource for the history of the Greater Portland, Maine area. Based in the Portland Room, our special collections are rich with printed books, archival documents, manuscripts, local periodicals, maps, photographs, and directories that showcase the history and development of the city of Portland.

We collect, preserve, and provide access to Portland-related special collections.  We conserve archival artifacts and offer an array of documentation about the life of Portland including its residents, activities, businesses, and the physical attributes of the city.  We manage the Portland Room, which is a welcoming research space, and is an active community partner with local researchers, educators, archivists, historians, and educational institutions serving all age groups to preserve and tell Portland’s narrative history.

Open hours (as of 6 March 2023) :
Monday: 10am – 2pm
Tuesday: 2pm – 6pm
Wednesday & Thursday: 10am – 2pm
Friday: 1pm – 5pm
Closed Saturday & Sunday

Limit to 4 patrons at a time.
Visits 30 minutes per person.
One microfilm reader-printer is available.
Masks strongly recommended at all times.

Digital Archives

Portland Public Library’s Digital Commons is an open-access online portal featuring digitized materials that represent and preserve the history and community life of Portland, Maine. Here you will find digitized access to the Casco Bay Weekly, Maine News Index (abstracts only), Portland Press Herald Still Film Negatives Collection, Peaks Island Archives, City of Portland Documents, and more.

The Local History Collections within Digital Commons include the Children’s Theatre of Maine, Jewish Oral History Collections, Portland Postcards, Restaurant Menus, The Maine Broadcaster, and much more.

In addition, the 1924 Portland Tax Records photographic database, which was made in the Portland Room from original images stored at Portland City Hall, is available on the Maine Memory Network (hosted by Maine Historical Society).


We are continually adding to these digital collections of maps, photographs, prints, periodicals, audio files, and various printed texts, so check back often!

Portland Contemporary Archive

The Portland Contemporary Archive is an ongoing digital archive of stories from you, our community members, about life in and around Portland, Maine. We’re interested in preserving your thoughts, images, art, writings and more for future generations!

We invite you to browse this archive and also to contribute to it and explain or show your daily life through poetry, letters, diary entries, original artwork, audio files, doodles or comics. Sharing our stories will keep us socially connected and preserve them for the future.

The new exhibit in the Portland Room celebrates two centuries of printing in Portland. The photographs and published examples on display are drawn from our archival collections. Printing and bookbinding were integral to the city’s economy, and Exchange Street was our “printers’ row” in the 19th century.

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Marquee of the State Theater

Portland Contemporary Archive is Portland Public Library’s digital archive where we collect stories from you, our community members, about how COVID-19 is impacting your life. Browse the collection and learn about how YOU can submit!

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Here are a few sites that accentuate photographic media, their many different processes, and how they’ve been used since the mid-19th century. Archival work, such as we do in the Portland Room at PPL, brings together the interpretation and cataloguing of photo media, understanding historic image-creation processes, and their preservation.

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For your viewing enjoyment, here are some major library collections of digitized rare books and prints.


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PPL offers many sources for your genealogy research, via the Library’s Portland Room. In addition to books, periodicals, and microfilms- here is a list of web sites you can freely access from outside the Library.

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journal writing

Many write to preserve the present — for future readers, perhaps to pass along to later generations — or even just to re-read one’s journeys later on.

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Children’s Special Collection books

The Children’s Special Collection in the Portland Room comprises over 600 classic children’s books, most of which were published in the 19th- and early 20th-centuries. These books provide an overview of the subject matter and period book bindings. Many are beautifully illustrated by notable artists such as Arthur Rackham, N.C. Wyeth, C.E. Brook, Kate Greenaway, and others.

For additional, online reading, the digitized Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature offers a vast, open-source collection of more than 115,000 volumes published in the United States and Great Britain from the mid-1600s to present day.

Children’s Theatre of Maine Archive

Launched in 1924 by the Junior League of Portland to bring “good theatre to children,” the Children’s Theatre of Maine is America’s oldest continuing children’s theatre. Drawing the attention of Bette Davis and Gary Merrill, the Children’s Theatre gained notoriety in the 1950s. Former CTM actors include Linda Lavin, Judd Nelson, Tony Shalhoub, and Andrea Martin. The Theatre archives are now available for research in the Portland Room and some pieces are also in our Digital Commons online collection.

Related Items in our Catalog »
Jewish Oral History Project

The library’s Portland Room includes a special collection of recordings of interviews with Portland’s elder Jewish community members. The first set, made by Konnilyn G. Feig in 1976 and 1977, comprises the Portland Jewish Oral History Project and includes the original recordings and print transcripts. In partnership with the comprehensive Documenting Maine Jewry project, the Library also provides online access to an ongoing collection of contemporary interviews made by the local Jewish community itself.

Related Items in our Catalog »
Related Online Resources »
Portland Press Herald Still Film Negative Collection

The Portland Public Library manages the 1936-2003 photographic still film negative collection  from the Portland Press Herald, an immense documentation of Portland’s history through the lens of the daily newspaper’s photography. PPL is conserving and indexing the collection of 800,000 images and selectively scanning them for photo essays on the Life of the Library Blog, the Main Library’s “Aerial Portland” exhibit, and our Digital Commons online collection.

Up Next at the Library:
From the PPL blog:
Celebrations of Black History
A listing of events and resources regarding Black History.   More »
Control Those Porcupines: UMaine Extension Bulletins
Some highlights from the library's collection of bulletins from UMaine Extension Service.   More »
Contact the Librarian
Abraham A. Schechter   Email »
Special Collections Librarian & Archivist
207-871-1700 x747
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