Special Collections Department Access Policies

Special Collections Department libraries are open for use by appointment only to Smithsonian curators, researchers, and other staff and by other scholars and researchers. In keeping with tradition, people making use of the collections in Smithsonian Libraries and Archives Special Collections Department libraries are called "Readers." All books and manuscripts must be examined in the library reading room and cannot be checked out. There is no browsing in the library stacks. All books and manuscripts are kept in a secure area and readers need to ask for a specific item that is then brought out to them in the reading room. Materials are available for use at the discretion of library staff and may be restricted because of fragility or poor condition.

Making an Appointment

Due to limited facilities and occasional high demand, it is important for everyone (including SI staff) to call ahead and make an appointment to work in Special Collections Department libraries. If possible, it will help to let the library staff know what you are planning to look at.

Phone numbers:

  • Dibner Library: 202.633.3872
  • Cullman Library: 202.633.1184

Reading Room Policies and Procedures

Security and preservation standards are observed at all times. Readers must comply with the following procedures during their visit. Library staff will recall books if improper use or intent to damage is observed. Readers who do not follow Smithsonian Libraries and Archives' policies will be asked to leave the library.

  1. All readers complete a reader registration form upon arrival at Special Collections Department libraries. Readers must present identification and sign the log each day they come to use Special Collections Department materials.
  2. No coats, umbrellas, packages, or briefcases are permitted into the reading room. Secure lockers are available to store personal belongings.
  3. A request form must be completed for each title and presented to library staff who will retrieve the book/item.
  4. Materials are brought to the reader by library staff. No more than three bound volumes or one manuscript may be used at a time.
  5. Only pencils/paper or personal computers may be used to take notes. Library materials may not be written on, altered, leaned on, folded, traced, or otherwise stressed.
  6. Bookstands and weights are available upon request.
  7. Photocopy requests are approved by the librarian and photocopying is done by staff only. Materials in poor condition might not be approved for photocopying. Library staff can arrange for photography and readers may also arrange for their own photography with permission from library staff.
  8. No Special Collections Department materials may leave the reading room or Special Collections Department facility.
  9. Each item must be returned to the librarian before a reader leaves the library. Books may be reserved for a limited time by arrangement with staff.

Reproduction Services and Permissions

Photocopies and scans can be made from items in Special Collections Department libraries if they are in good enough condition to withstand the handling. Materials in poor condition might not be approved for copying. Copy requests are approved by the librarian and photocopying and scanning is done by library staff only. Due to copyright issues on unpublished materials, people requesting copies of manuscripts must sign a form provide by the department. Copies of this form are made on the back of each manuscript photocopy provided to the researcher. Currently there is no charge for photocopies, but there is a limit of twenty pages from a single bound volume.