Skip to Main Content
art institute of chicago logo

Reading Room Access and Research Services for AIC Staff: Stacks Access

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

Stacks Access Appointments


As stewards of a renowned museum research collection for art, architecture, and design, the staff in the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries understand how central our collection is to scholarly and artistic projects. We are committed to making it as accessible as possible to researchers. Our holdings encompass a wide variety of media, including both digital and physical formats, and contain both mass-produced, widely accessible materials and unique and rare resources. The most comprehensive way to browse the collection is to use the online catalog, either searching for known items or using the browse search to explore by author, title, subject, or call number. 

To complement our physical collection we subscribe to hundreds of subscription resources, most of which are available without login from the museum campus. These are included in the online catalog's 'Everything' search scope. A comprehensive list of subscription resources is available here.

Our collection of more than 650,000 physical items is a mediated-use research collection that does not allow for comprehensive browsing. These materials are stored in more than 30 different permanent locations, the majority of which are located onsite in the Research Center's spaces. However, more than 20 percent of our collection is not browsable: sixteen percent of our collection is stored outside of the Research Center's onsite stacks, and more than seven percent of the collection is housed in special collections storage that is accessible only to Research Center staff. Although we are not able to open the entirety of the collection for browsing, we recognize the serendipity of discovery that shelf browsing makes possible. We provide permanent museum staff with access to our onsite, general collections stacks based on the guidelines below.


Art Institute of Chicago museum staff may schedule an appointment to browse the general collections stacks (Stack B, Stack K, Stack 3, and Stack 4) with a librarian, who will be available to assist you with research questions and with locating additional materials on your research topic.

These appointments are available based on the following access requirements:

  • Stacks access is available by appointment to permanent museum staff who have completed the required orientation to become authorized library patrons (library orientations meet at 11:00 on the first Wednesday of the month; please request an orientation invitation here).
  • Half-hour stacks access appointments may be scheduled during these hours:
    • Tuesday: 9:30-4:45
    • Wednesday: 9:30-4:45
  • No stacks access is available on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays. On these days, staff may use the online catalog to request materials to be retrieved from the stacks.
    • Materials are retrieved from the stacks once a day Monday through Friday, and most requests received by 11:00 on those days are fulfilled the same day (different timelines apply for requests for items in special locations including the backlog, the departmental libraries, and our offsite storage facility). 
  • To access the stacks, museum staff will request an appointment here no later than one hour prior to the desired appointment time.
  • At the time of your appointment, a staff member will meet you at the circulation desk in the reading room. You may spend the duration of the appointment browsing in one stack, move between all four of the stacks browsing materials, or may load a cart and then review the materials in the reading room - whatever best suits your research needs.
  • To make the most efficient use of your time, we strongly recommend that you bring a list of relevant library materials to your appointment. Information on how to create a list in the online catalog is available here.
  • No coats, large bags, or food or drink are permitted in the stacks. Please store these items in your office prior to coming to the reading room for your appointment, or place them in the east alcove closet while you are in the reading room and stacks. 
  • Any materials that the staff member removes from the shelves in the stacks and does not wish to check out must be placed on the item return location in the stack so that library staff can track item use; librarians can point you to these locations.
  • Not all materials in the general collection stacks may circulate. The following items may be used in the reading room only and may not circulate outside the library:
    • Archival materials (available by appointment only)

    • 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 are available by appointment only)

    • Portfolios of loose plates

    • Special collections materials (available by appointment only)

  • Circulation of library materials is not guaranteed. Library staff may review materials and may restrict items from circulation should the librarian determine that circulating an item would have an adverse effect on access to or preservation of the item.
  • When staff members bring materials from the stacks to the circulation desk at the conclusion of the appointment, the following process will apply:
    • Library staff will check out items that the staff member may take to their office and the staff member may take those items with them.
    • Library staff will hold the non-circulating items to be checked out to staff reserve. Materials will be available on the staff reserve shelf, filed under the staff member's last name, within an hour of the conclusion of the appointment.
  • The Libraries will continue to offer museum staff reading room research appointments for reviewing special collection materials (or other mediated-use materials, such as supervised-use-only interlibrary loan materials) on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 10:00 and 1:00. Place requests for reading room appointments here.
  • Please send questions to We are excited to be able to offer this new service, and look forward to seeing you in the stacks soon.

Ryerson & Burnham Libraries Search

Search the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries

Input a keyword into the box and click Search to begin searching the online library catalog.

Research Center Resources

Research Center Resources

Online catalogs and databases maintained by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries and the Art Institute of Chicago Archives:

Make requests for materials that are not owned by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries:

Find library information:

Digital Resources from the Art Institute of Chicago

Digital Resources from the Art Institute of Chicago

  • Ryerson & Burnham Art and Architecture Archives: Digital Collections
  • Finding Aids: Finding aids are inventories or indices that describe the contents of an archival collection and are the primary method of accessing information about any given group of records.
  • Images and Media: Catalog of electronic surrogates of selected original archival materials from the Archives collections, including photographs, slides, architectural drawings and prints, correspondence, and printed papers.
  • Oral Histories: Browse over 250 artists and architect oral histories.

A list of online guides and bibliographies developed by librarians to assist research on a variety of art historical and architectural topics, including provenance, building history, appraisal and preservation resources, Chicago neighborhood research, and the history of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Digital collection catalogs available freely online. Catalogs offer detailed art historical context, provenance history, and scientific analysis of artworks in the Art Institute of Chicago's collections.

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