Plan Your Visit

The collections of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) are open for research and reference use by all members of the University community and the public. All materials are non-circulating. While no appointments are necessary, we strongly recommend that you contact RBML before you visit. Many collections are stored offsite and others may have access restrictions.

Researchers may use pencil and paper or laptops for note taking while consulting collections. Electrical outlets are located throughout the reading rooms and wireless access is available throughout the building. Digital photography is permitted; please consult the reference desk staff for specific guidelines.


Because the RBML materials are rare, unique, and usually irreplaceable, they are subject to a higher level of security than other library materials. RBML collections do not circulate and can only be accessed in our Reading Rooms. Researchers are required to register their own Special Collections Research Account to request to see any materials in the RBML Reading Room.  You will need to provide a current address, email, telephone number, and other contact information. Upon your first visit, you will need validate your account in-person with government issued photo identification or Columbia ID and we will take your photo for security purposes.


Once you have created your Special Collections Research Account, you will be able to request materials.

  • from the CLIO online library catalog record: click on "Request: Special Collections" on the right side of the page;
  • for collections with PDF finding aids, link from the collection summary page to its CLIO record. Then, from the CLIO record, use the "Request: Special Collections" link on the right to submit a request.
  • from the Archival Portal finding aids: click the check box located on the right for the box(es) you need, and then scroll back to the top of the container list document and click “Submit Request” button in the red-rimmed box at top.
Once you have followed the steps to request materials, you will be prompted to schedule a date for your request. If you are not sure if the collection you are interested in viewing is stored offsite, if you need materials sooner, or you have other questions, do not hesitate to contact RBML for assistance.


Materials stored onsite can generally be made available on the same day of your request and will be retrieved after you arrive in our Reading Room. A request for an onsite item will show in your Special Collections Research Account as: Available. Please visit library for access.


Due to space constraints, many collections are housed offsite and require advance notice for retrieval. We prefer as much advance notice as possible to retrieve materials from offsite storage, but generally require at least 3 full business days to process requests for offsite items.

Please note that our library's daily delivery and storage capacity for offsite material is limited, and we are not able to fulfill requests for large amounts of offsite material. Please contact library staff if you need assistance coordinating your requests.  

The initial status of a request for offsite material will show in your Special Collections Research Account as PENDING. In off-site storage. Awaiting Date Approval. Once your Scheduled Date has been approved by staff, you will receive a confirmation email and the status of your request will be updated.

Offsite items will generally be available by 11:00 a.m. on the scheduled date of delivery and will be held for two weeks from the date of delivery. Requests for offsite items which have been delivered will show in your Special Collections Research Account as Available. Please visit library for access. 


CLIO catalog record request:
CLIO Special Collections record
Archival Portal finding aid request:
Finding Aid "Submit Request"


As part of our commitment to intellectual accessibility, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML), informs the public of the collections in our custody, even if they are not fully accessible to researchers, and make basic collection-level records available immediately upon accession. We make every effort to give our researchers access to the collections, whenever possible, by doing a quick assessment of what can be seen without processing. An unprocessed collection might be partially or fully closed for research if the materials in question are excessively fragile, impossible to locate due to lack of arrangement within the collection, or contain sensitive information.

Collections that are unprocessed have a restriction note in CLIO that states,"Material is unprocessed. Please contact for more information." If the collection has been previously requested and evaluated for access by an archivist, the outcome of that review will be reflected there as well.

How do I request access to an unprocessed collection?

Please contact describing the unprocessed collection you wish to access. An archivist will review the request, and will determine whether the material can be made available in the reading room. You should hear from us within three weeks.

What should I expect when visiting RBML to use unprocessed archival materials?

If the collection can be made available, please confirm the date and time of your prospective visit with RBML staff before arriving; the materials will be ready for your viewing at that time. You may also want to keep in mind that the box numbers and other citation information for the documents in the collection are subject to change during processing.

Handling unprocessed archival materials in the reading room:

  • Because such collections are unprocessed and somewhat fragile, you will be seated at one of the five reading room tables closest to the manager's desk. This will allow the reading room manager to more easily assist you with any handling issues that may arise, and help to prevent damage to the materials. 
  • Please be especially careful when handling materials from unprocessed collections. If you see something that you feel unsure about handling, either because of its condition or its format, do not hesitate to ask for assistance.
  • We require all researchers to use gloves when handling photographs that are not encased in polyester sleeves. Gloves are available in the reading room for researchers to use.
  • We cannot provide access to original time-based media material which has not first been reformatted for preservation. Researchers are welcome to examine archival time-based media items and decide whether they wish to place an order for Audio/Video reformatting. If copyright and/or condition restrictions apply, it may not be possible to digitize a requested item. Please note that A/V reformatting is handled by an outside vendor and typically takes 6 to 8 weeks.
  • As when handling any other archival collection, please remove only one folder from a box at a time, and keep all materials in the same order that you found them. An unprocessed collection may not be arranged in any way that makes particular sense, but maintaining it in its current order allows us to more easily ensure that all items are accounted for when the collection is processed.



RBML Entrance RBML Entrance

The Columbia University campus is easily accessible via the 1 subway train to 116th Street, and MTA bus lines M104, M4, M60, and M11.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library is located on the 6th floor of Butler Library. Butler Library is accessible via the Columbia University quadrangle; the back of the library faces 114th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.

If you do not have a Columbia identification card, when you arrive at Butler Library, please visit the Library Information Office (LIO) located immediately to the left of the security desk inside the front doors. Present a government issued photo ID and tell LIO staff that you are coming to use the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) collections.

LIO Staff will issue you a one-day access pass, which entitles you to visit the RBML. A white referral slip will also be issued to you; this must be handed to RBML staff.

If you need access to RBML for more than one day, please speak to RBML staff who will arrange with LIO staff to re-issue a pass valid for the duration of your visit.

Failure to adhere to Columbia Libraries' visitor access policies will result in the suspension of privileges.   

When you have passed the security desk, follow the hallway left and take the East elevator to the 6th floor. The entrance to RBML is through the glass doors at the end of the hallway, to your right. Lockers for coats, bags, laptop cases, and other personal items are located just outside the entrance; keys are available at the RBML reference desk.


All materials are accessed in our supervised reading room, an enclosed space where users work in close proximity with one another.

Our reading room cannot accommodate groups. Requests for visits of 3 or more people and requests for class sessions are subject to staff and space availability but may be accommodated with ample advance notice.

Submit requests for group or class visits to as far in advance as possible.


For the comfort of all and to ensure the security of our collections, users are expected to follow our policies and procedures:

  • Registration with valid photo identification is required. Every user's photograph is also taken for security purposes.
  • Personal belongings including outerwear, backpacks, purses, briefcases, computer cases/sleeves, camera bags, parcels, envelopes, and portfolio folders are not permitted in the Reading Room.
  • Reading room temperatures are low to protect collection materials. Outerwear is not permitted but you may consider dressing in layers for comfort.
  • Food and beverages are not permitted in the Reading Room.
  • Pencils, notebooks, laptop computers, tablets and digital cameras are permitted in the reading rooms. Laptop sleeves and cases are not permitted and must be left in lockers.
  • A locker will be provided to securely store your belongings.
  • Wash your hands before handling any materials. Restrooms are located down the hall from our main entrance, near the elevators.
  • Refrain from using strong perfumes or colognes.
  • Please mute all electronic devices and keep conversations to a minimum.
  • Access may be limited under the following conditions: when papers are being processed; a result of donor-imposed restrictions; or when their physical condition warrants restricted use. In cases of collections in process, staff will work with you to facilitate access wherever possible.
  • The RBML cannot provide access to original time-based media material which has not been first been reformatted for preservation. Researchers are welcome to examine archival time-based media items and decide whether they wish to place an order for Audio/Video reformatting.
  • All materials must be returned to the reading room manager before leaving the reading room. Arrangements for future use may be made at this time.
  • Any personal materials, including laptops, which were brought into the reading room will be inspected by a staff member when a researcher leaves the reading room.
  • We reserve the right to search any notes or personal belongings at any time.


RBML Reading Room RBML Reading Room

Use of Materials:

  • When you enter the Reading Room, check in with the manager and explain which item(s) you would like to see first.
  • When using archival and manuscript material, please handle materials carefully, take out only one folder at any time, keep all archival materials in their original order and place all materials flat on the table.
  • When using books or bound volumes, cradles and book weights will be provided for you.
  • Gloves are required when handling photographs, film, slides, or metal objects.
  • When you are done, please return all materials to the Reading Room manager.
  • On regular workdays, materials are not retrieved after 4:15 p.m. and all materials should be returned by 4:45 p.m.  (On Mondays when classes are in session, materials are not retrieved after 7:15 p.m.; all materials should be returned by 7:45 p.m.)

Photoduplication in the Reading Room:

To support research and scholarship, digital cameras and/or cell phone cameras may be used in the Reading Room with most materials.

  • Tripods, flash, or additional lighting is not permitted.
  • Please turn off the flash element and turn off any sound elements.
  • Personal copiers and scanners are not permitted.

Handling Materials:

These three brief instructional videos demonstrate proper handling of our collections.


Photocopies, low-resolution digital reproductions (PDFs) and digital conversion services are provided to our users to support research and scholarship. The RBML provides reproductions from our collections upon request as long as the staff determines that copying will not harm the original document(s) or violate copyright law.

  • Reproduction orders for archival material are limited to a maximum of 250 pages. Reproductions of Oral Histories, MA Essays or Dissertations are limited to 650 pages.
  • Bound materials cannot usually be photocopied and must be serviced via low-resolution PDF.
  • Orders may be submitted in-person or remotely.
  • All orders are processed in order of receipt—usually within three to four weeks.
  • All reproduction orders must be prepaid; we accept cash, checks, Visa and MasterCard.

Requests for a complete unit of material, such as en entire box of manuscript material or an entire bound volume, cannot be filled by photocopying, but may be possible through digital imaging, if condition and copyright law allows.

The RBML reserves the right to limit the number of reproductions made, or to decline to make requested reproductions, due to the fragile nature of material, restrictions, or if we determine that copying material would violate U.S. copyright law. If you have questions about reproduction policies and procedures, please consult with RBML staff before placing an order.

Publish & Cite

Publication Policy

In order to reduce barriers to the dissemination of research conducted in its collections, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) will ordinarily not set conditions on publication of materials from its collections in connection with scholarship.

In most cases, RBML owns only the physical object and therefore does not assume any responsibility for literary property, copyright, or any other legal issues involved in the publication and reproduction of items in its collections. It is the responsibility of the user to secure permission from the appropriate copyright holder. Any copyright infringement which may occur through the use of our material is the responsibility of the patron. RBML holds the copyright to the following archival collections: Joseph Urban Papers; William Bronk Papers; Manuel Komroff Papers; and the Hart Crane Papers.

Citation Format

The RBML does not charge for the physical use of its items, but we do request that you use the following credit lines:

  • Manuscript Citation: identification of specific item, date [if known], name of collection (box #, folder #), Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.
  • Book Citation: Title, Call #, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.
  • Oral History
    • Oral History interview with _______________ (year of the interview), Collection or Project Title (when applicable), pages ________, Columbia Center for Oral History Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.
    • Reminiscences of _______________ (year of the interview), Collection or Project Title (when applicable), pages ________, Columbia Center for Oral History Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.
  • University Archives:
    • Manuscript Citation: identification of specific item, date [if known], name of collection (box #, folder #), University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.
    • Book Citation: Title, Call #, University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.

If there is a known photographer or artist associated with an image you wish to publish we recommend attribution as good scholarly practice.

For additional information on copyright and fair use issues, please visit the web site of the CUL Copyright Advisory Office. For more information on publication policies for the Libraries in general, please see: Columbia University Libraries Publication and Digital Reproduction Policy and Procedures

You may also want to consult WATCH, a database containing the names and addresses of copyright holders or contact persons for authors and artists whose archives are housed, in whole or in part, in libraries and archives in North America and the United Kingdom. WATCH is a joint project of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Reading Library, Reading, England.


The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.

Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specific conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," that user may be liable for copyright infringement.

This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law.