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Reading Room Access and Research Services for AIC Staff: FAQs

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

Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to frequently asked questions below. If you have questions not answered here, please reach out to Research Center staff. Our contact information is listed at the bottom of this page.

Access Questions

I received a notice that my requested items are available in the reading room. How can I arrange to collect them?

You can visit the reading room at any point M-F from 9:00-5:00 p.m. to pick up, drop off, or work with general collection materials. The notice you receive will indicate how the materials are available:

  • On the staff hold shelf next to the elevator and spiral staircase (circulating materials for permanent museum staff)
  • On the staff reserve shelf in the east alcove (non-circulating, general collection materials)
  • Special collections materials that require mediated access by appointment (information on special collection and archival materials is below).

The reading room doors adjacent to the Grand Staircase are kept unlocked all day on Tuesday and Wednesday, while the museum is closed to the public, and kept unlocked from 1:30-5:00 p.m. during public hours on Monday, Thursday and Friday. To access the reading room at any other time, please use the proxed Research Center museum staff entrance in the Photography & Media gallery 10 on the ground floor between the Thorne Rooms and the paperweights gallery. Take the spiral staircase or the library elevator to the first floor. 

The elevator and stairs can also be reached from the ground level of Ferguson by following the G-level hallway south past the Michigan Avenue building freight elevator until you can turn right. Walk past the Book Conservation lab and Stack B, and follow the signs to the elevator or the staircase.


I need to view special collection materials or archival collections. What are my access options?

Request a research appointment to view these materials in the reading room. Additional information about library research appointments for museum staff is available here, and additional information about archives research appointments for museum staff is available here.


I often find useful materials browsing in the stacks. Is there a digital way I can replicate that?

It is not the same, but a similar way of exploring the collection is to use the browse feature in the online catalog. You can put in the call number of an item that you have found useful and browse what is sitting next to it on the shelves, or can browse by author, subject, or title. Additionally, at the bottom of each record is a Virtual Browse service to see what is shelved near the actual book in the stacks.


Why is access to the stacks mediated? 

Since the majority of the Libraries' collection can now circulate to staff homes (to support the museum's hybrid work policy) there is a complex list of materials that cannot leave the reading room for collection preservation reasons. This material is part of the general collection, but is not separated from circulating general collections material in the stacks areas, so staff mediation is now required. We offer mediated stacks access appointments throughout the day on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to museum staff who have completed a library orientation. Half-hour appointments for browsing the stacks with a librarian may be requested here.

Safety Questions

How are library materials being handled to keep staff safe?

Ryerson & Burnham Libraries staff are still wearing masks at all times when handling collection materials, and our new circulation system allows us to scan the call slip to complete the circulation process, minimizing the amount of handling for each item we check out. We are adhering to the museum policies for building entry and are maintaining good hand hygiene. We appreciate you following those same policies when you are in the reading room. 


What safety rules are in place in the reading room?

  • Researchers are asked to wear a mask for the duration of their research appointments.
  • We ask that you cancel your appointment if you are feeling unwell. Appointments may be canceled by emailing or or by calling (312) 443-3666. Research Center staff will work with you to reschedule your appointment as quickly as possible.


When I pick up my library materials, should I clean or disinfect them?

No, please do not use any sort of cleaner on library materials. Library staff are masked when handling materials, and we are observing all museum health guidelines, including maintaining social distancing, frequent hand washing, sanitizing and disinfecting workspaces and equipment, and self-monitoring for virus symptoms, all of which should mitigate the possibility of spreading the virus through surface transmission. Many antibacterial cleaners include bleach or alcohol, which can cause damage to library materials. Please remember that you are responsible for any damage that occurs to collection items while they are in your care.


Timeline Questions

What will be the average wait time between requesting an item and being notified that it is available?

If you request a general collection item that is marked as available in an onsite location prior to 11:00 you should be notified that it is ready for you to retrieve it from the reading room by 1:00 that day.


I need an item that is stored at Offsite-NU. What is the average wait time between requesting it and being notified that the item is available?

Our colleagues at OGLC are onsite Monday through Friday. Once a request is received, they ship it to us within two work days. Depending on when your request is placed, it may take up to a full week before you are notified that the item is available for you to retrieve.


There is a book in the backlog that I would like to consult. What is the average wait time for processing the book and delivering it to the reading room?

Most backlog materials will be available for pickup within three weeks from the time the request was placed. If the item requires an enclosure or other attention from our colleagues in Book Conservation we will let you know; these requests will take longer to complete.


I ordered an interlibrary loan item. When can I expect to receive it?

Our ability to borrow materials depends on other libraries' ability to be open and staffed sufficiently to lend their physical collections. We will do our best to fulfill requests, but loan requests may take two to six weeks to fill or may be unfilled due to varying staffing levels at our partner libraries. 

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:

Aaron Rutt (x3-3936)

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