Skip to Main Content
art institute of chicago logo

Reading Room Access and Research Services for AIC Staff: Circulation Policy

Information on Using the Libraries and Archives for Art Institute of Chicago Staff

Circulation Policy

Circulation Policy

The Ryerson and Burnham Libraries and the Art Institute of Chicago Archives form a significant collection of unique and rare materials that is unparalleled in the Midwest. The Archives contain unique primary source materials that are original documents inaccessible elsewhere. The Libraries' collections include rare and special materials, and accessioned materials, scarce in other print and digital collections. Comparing our print holdings with those of the HathiTrust member libraries revealed that 310,065 volumes are unique to our collections; and an analysis of interlibrary loans over a five year period showed that we lent 315+ items unique to our holdings to partner institutions. 


Access to these collections is one of the privileges of being a staff member at the Art Institute of Chicago. When the Franke Reading Room is open, AIC staff are able to consult collections. Extended access to the circulating materials is also available under the following conditions.


Circulating materials include:

  • General collection monographs published after 1923 that are in stable condition  


These materials may not circulate outside the reading room:

  • Accessioned materials

  • Archival materials

  • Artist files

  • Auction catalogs

  • Bound periodicals

  • Bound-withs (one volume containing multiple titles bound together)

  • Boxed materials

  • Departmental library materials (Prints and Drawings, Asian Art, Textiles, Conservation and Science, Ancient Art, Paper Conservation)

  • Fragile materials

  • Journals

  • Materials published prior to 1923

  • Microforms

  • Open-shelf reference collection materials

  • Oversized materials (materials stored in f stack and fx stack)

  • Portfolios of loose plates

  • Special collections materials

Circulation of materials is not guaranteed. Library staff is responsible for balancing access to materials with the long-term preservation of those materials. Items maybe restricted from circulation at the discretion of the librarians.


Permanent AIC staff is eligible for circulation privileges under the following conditions:


• A library orientation must be completed prior to obtaining circulation privileges.

• A library authorization form must be submitted in order for privileges to be activated. This form, which must be signed by the patron's supervisor, authorizes the patron to access the stacks (when they are open) and to check out library materials under the following conditions:

• Circulating materials may be removed from the museum building, but the patron is responsible for any fees assessed for missing, damaged, or overdue items, as outlined in the replacement policy below.

• Failure to return materials in a timely manner may result in the loss of privileges.

• Materials that cannot be accounted for will be thoroughly searched for once in the library stacks and then, if not found, will be declared missing.

• Materials may not be remotely transferred from patron to patron outside the libraries. Items must be returned to the library in order to be transferred to a different patron’s account. If materials change hands outside of the library, any fees for damages or loss will be assessed to the person who owns the account to which the item is charged.

• All materials charged to a staff member's library and interlibrary loan accounts must be returned prior to the person's separation from the AIC. If other staff in the department would like to take possession of the materials, they may be checked out from the libraries once the departing staff member's account has been cleared and the materials are approved for circulation.

• All items checked out to the patron’s account by interns, volunteers, or temporary fellows are the responsibility of the patron.

• No more than 250 items at a time may be checked out on any one patron’s account.

• No more than 3 items at a time may be hand carried out of the museum. When patrons require additional items for remote work, the items must be securely boxed and transported using an insured automobile. 


Please note:

The AIC insurance policy protects the patron while he or she is engaged in transportation of materials and protects the materials themselves only while the patron and materials are onsite. 


The patron accepts liability for any harm to their person or to the materials charged out on their account when the patron and materials are off campus; this may include situations such as:

  • Physical harm to the patron caused by carrying heavy materials

  • Harm to materials caused by inclement weather, improper storage, or damage due to exposure to food or drink

  • Harm to the patron or the materials caused by misadventure (car wreck, flooding, fire)


• Patrons are expected to follow the best practices for use and storage of library materials at home, listed on this page. 


Staff Reserve

Full time staff with library privileges will sometimes not have a secure office for storing library materials or have another reason for preferring to keep materials in the Reading Room rather than checking them out. In these cases, we check materials out to Staff Reserve and store them by last name on the Staff Reserve shelves in the East Alcove. Staff Reserves are limited to 25 items at any one time. Specials, archives and oversized material that staff wish to work with over a period of time will also be checked out to Staff Reserve but kept in the cabinet behind the Circulation Desk.


Short-term researchers, including interns, volunteers, and fellows on placements of a duration of less than one year, may use library materials in the reading room under the following conditions:

• A library orientation must be completed prior to obtaining reading room access privileges.

• A completed library authorization form must be submitted. This form, which must be signed by the patron's supervisor, authorizes the patron to access the reading room and to work with library materials on staff reserve under the following conditions:

• When the reading room is open, interns, volunteers, and fellows may request general collection library materials from the stacks. These materials will be retrieved during our regular paging schedule and placed on staff reserve in the east alcove.

• Interns, volunteers, and fellows may request special collection library materials from the stacks. These materials will be retrieved during our regular paging schedule and placed on staff reserve in the locked storage. Access to these materials is available by making a research appointment.

• In case of an extension to the person's internship/volunteer commitment/employment, the libraries must be notified in writing prior to the expiration of the account, and provided with a new end date.




A growing collection of materials that have not recently circulated is stored at an offsite warehouse that we share with Northwestern University. Materials marked with the location Offsite-NU in the online catalog are stored in temperature- and humidity-controlled stacks in the offsite facility. These can be retrieved by requesting the item through the library catalog. Books are returned to the libraries within a week of receiving your request, and you will be emailed once the item is available on the hold shelf in the library. You may keep materials as long as you need them, but they are due on July 1.  Email prior to July 1 to request renewals of offsite materials.



If a book that you need is checked out, you may request it through the library catalog. Library staff will retrieve the book and route it to you on the hold shelf as soon as it arrives back in the libraries. If a recall is placed on an item that you have checked out, you may request the item through the online catalog two weeks after returning it to the libraries if the item is still important for your research. Please be conscientious about responding to requests for recalled materials, and about returning materials that you have recalled from other researchers quickly.

Replacement Policy

Replacement Policy for Missing or Damaged Library Materials

Library patrons are responsible for replacing library materials that are damaged or that go missing when checked out to their accounts. If materials are not returned to the libraries prior to the end of the staff member’s employment at AIC, the patron will remain responsible for the materials and AIC may seek to deduct the fee for missing items from their final paycheck. The fee for replacing a damaged or missing item is $250 for items that are replaceable. However, the library stewards many rare and unique items. If we are not able to locate a replacement copy, the patron will be assessed a $500 fee. All missing or damaged Special Collection material will be assessed on a title-by-title basis.


Please note:

• Patrons are welcome to provide replacement copies of missing or damaged materials. The library must approve the replacement copy and it must be received within 30 days of the patron receiving an invoice. When the approved item has been received in the library, the library will waive the applicable fee.

• No refunds will be granted for missing materials that have already been replaced.

• If an item is found once the libraries have replaced it, that item can be withdrawn and kept by the curatorial department if desired.

• Damaged items should be returned to Circulation, where staff will route them to the Book Conservation department to determine whether a replacement in warranted. If an item must be replaced, staff will notify the patron and the applicable replacement fee will be assessed.

• If materials cannot be accounted for when recalled to the library or upon an individual's separation from the AIC, library staff will conduct one thorough search of the stacks for the missing materials. If the missing materials are not found in that search, the patron will be billed for replacement.

• A minimum of one week is required for a thorough shelf check to be completed. Please alert library staff to potentially missing materials as soon as possible when preparing to depart the museum.

• Payment for missing or damaged materials is due within 30 days. If fees have not been collected in full by that time, AIC may seek to deduct the fee from the staff member’s paycheck.

Best Practices for Handling and Storing Library Materials

Best Practices for Handling and Storing Library Materials

1. Library materials should not be stored or used near food and drink. Do not

keep any beverages or other liquids on the same surface where books are

consulted or stored.


2. Do not shelve books where they will be exposed to sunlight.


3. Store library materials in a secure area away from children and pets. Select an area not directly exposed to heating and cooling vents and away from other sources of heat and water.  


4. Do not pull books from the top of the spine. When pulling books off a shelf,

push surrounding books in and pull the book out by the middle of the spine.


5. Avoid carrying more than 2–3 books at a time. No more than 3 items at a time may be hand carried between the museum and your home. Larger groups of materials must be securely boxed and transported by insured automobile. Remember that the museum’s insurance policy protects you and the collection materials only when you and the materials are onsite. You are liable for all damage to yourself and the collection items in your care when you are off campus.


6. Book shelves should not be packed too tightly or too loosely. Use bookends to loosen and tighten a row of books; the libraries have bookends available for your use.


7. If you must store a book on its side (because of height), always shelve with the spine down.


8. Books should be stored on a shelf, desk, or table and never on the floor.


9. Never use other books to prop open a book. Do not bend pages to mark your spot or store a book spine up on a desk or table to save your page. If important passages in books must be flagged, please use uncolored, acid-free strips of paper (available in the libraries).


10. Never store papers or use post-it notes in books. The weak adhesive mass that allows post-it notes to stick leaves an adhesive residue on the paper surface long after the note itself is removed. Dirt can adhere to this and book pages may become stuck together. If important passages in books must be flagged, please use uncolored, acid-free strips of paper (available in the libraries).


 11. Books should be copied on bookedge or overhead copiers only; never force a book flat to copy it on a face-down copier or scanner.


12. Use common sense and care, and please ask library staff if you have any questions or concerns. If something does happen to a book that affects its condition or results in damage of any kind, please bring this to the attention of library staff immediately.

Contact Us

Ryerson & Burnham Libraries for reference assistance, library orientation information, questions on interlibrary loan, and questions on library access and services. The following staff can also assist with these types of questions:

Violet Jaffe (x3-3665)

Jenn Smith (x7-7103) for questions on circulation, offsite materials, bulk returns, and scanning requests. The following staff can also assist with these types of questions: 

Abby Adams (x3-3667)


The Art Institute of Chicago Archives

For information on our collections, the history of the Art Institute and the School of the Art Institute, donation proposals, corrections, comments, and general questions, please contact Archives staff at