Exhibition Loan Services

Exhibition Loan Requests

books in exhibitions case

Institutions may request the loan of items for exhibition from the Smithsonian Libraries, including rare books, by submitting a written request via email one year in advance of the proposed exhibition to:

Kirsten van der Veen
Smithsonian Libraries
NHB 27C MRC 154
P.O. Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012

The request should include: a brief description of the exhibition; exhibition dates and venues; contact information; and a completed standard facilities report available from the American Association of Museums (http://www.aam-us.org ), with a diagram of the exhibition (including where our materials will be located). The specified items will need to be identified by author, title, date, and if known, call number; and include page opening or plate desired for display. We will review the request and evaluate requested materials for their suitability for exhibition. An agreement to accept Smithsonian insurance coverage or a certificate of insurance will be required prior to finalizing the exhibition loan.

Exhibition Requirements

To protect collections from unnecessary damage during exhibition, the borrower agrees to observe these practical guidelines in exhibiting materials from the collections of the Smithsonian Libraries.

General Exhibition Environment

Temperature and relative humidity of the exhibit case or gallery in which the loaned items are displayed is consistent within the ranges of 65-70 F and 35% - 45% relative humidity, and is monitored and recorded on a weekly basis.

Protective measures against the damaging effects of light through the use of UV-filtering glazing, film, or covering on windows, and the exclusion of fluorescent lighting are required. Illumination for most materials should be limited to 5-7 footcandles, about 50 lux of visible light. Watercolor or other fugitive media or fragile paper may be limited to 3 footcandles.

Very sensitive objects may need special environmental conditions and additional environmental control. Further specific requirements will be included on the particular loan agreement.

Display of Individual Objects

The Smithsonian Libraries specifies the angles of support for the front and back boards, the angle for opening of the text, and the angle of display for an item in the loan agreement. It is required that cradles be constructed to these specifications and will support the entire book – covers, spine, and textblock.

Materials suitable for cradles include ¼” thick polymethyl methacrylate or acrylic sheet, such as Plexiglas or Lucite, or 4-ply archival matboard. Sharp corners are to be avoided, by softening or rounding edges of the cradles to prevent damage to displayed materials. Adjustable Benchmark cradles may also be used.

Polyethylene strap is a chemically stable, visually unobtrusive material to secure the book to the support and to restrain pages at the desired opening. Mylar or other polyester has relatively inflexible and sharp edges that may distort or tear pages.

Isolate all library material which may come in direct contact with the deck or floor of the display case by placing a barrier of archival mounting board, or polyester film such as Mylar or Melinex on the deck.

Packing and Transportation

The Smithsonian Libraries will pack most items going out on loan and require that all materials be returned in the same manner. We will specify how material is to be transported, and full details of transportation will be discussed between borrower and lender. For work of high value, a fine arts mover or courier may be required.

Material should be inspected upon unpacking, and compared to the condition described in the provided SIL report. Any damage or change in condition must be reported immediately to the Preservation Services Department.

Materials on loan may not be repaired or altered, and any changes to the exhibition schedule will need to be approved in advance by the Preservation Services Department. The condition report process shall be repeated at each venue in a traveling exhibition.


Permission to reproduce and use images must be obtained separately and directed to SILImages@si.edu. Further information on rights and reproductions of Libraries material can be found here: http://www.sil.si.edu/imagegalaxy/imageGalaxy_About_FAQ.cfm