Plan Your Visit

Reading Room Appointments 2021-2022 Academic Year

Reading Room Access: Through July 30, 2021, the RBML reading room is open on a very limited basis by appointment only to current Columbia affiliates (students, faculty and staff) whose individual research requires consulting RBML materials.

Our reading room will be closed August 2-20, 2021 to accommodate our relocation back to our original space in Butler Library as we prepare to expand our services in the fall.

The reading room will reopen to Columbia affiliates on August 23, 2021Request an appointment.

Alumni and other visitors will be permitted by appointment starting in early October. Specific access instructions for visitors will be posted here as soon as these protocols are finalized. We invite you to access our Digital Collectionsrequest reproductions, or contact us for alternatives to in-person visits.

Columbia Community

Columbia affiliates are strongly encouraged to explore our remote resources & services prior to booking an appointment. Access Digital Collectionsrequest reproductions, or contact us to request a remote consultation to support instruction and for assistance with your projects and assignments.  

  • For current Columbia affiliates (students, faculty, and staff) whose individual research requires consulting RBML materials, the reading room will be available on weekdays.
  • Appointments will be offered in two-hour blocks, Monday to Friday: 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. or 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
  • A minimum of 5 business days’ advance notice is required for appointment requests. You will be provided with instructions for registering and requesting materials once your appointment time has been confirmed. 
  • To request an appointment, email


Appointment bookings are for one individual. Due to strict COVID-19 density limitations, pairs or groups cannot be accommodated. Additionally, due to space considerations and safety of the materials, requests will be limited to no more than 10 items per appointment. Your requested material will be retrieved in advance and will be available upon your arrival. No additional materials will be retrieved during your appointment. Wash your hands thoroughly prior to entering the reading room.

Researchers and RBML staff are required to adhere to the commitments of the Columbia Community Health Compact and:

  • Wear a face covering over nose and mouth at all times
  • Keep at least six feet (two arms lengths) apart from other people whenever possible
  • Complete Columbia’s symptom tracker app every day before coming to campus or leaving a campus residence hall, and to stay home when sick or after possible exposure to COVID-19
  • Follow basic health precautions including frequent hand washing/sanitizing and workplace and shared-space hygiene
  • Follow signs and guidance posted throughout campus spaces and buildings

In the interest of supporting community health and safety, any researcher who does not adhere to these commitments after being asked to do so by RBML staff or another appropriate authority, as set out in the Enhanced Health and Safety Policy enforcement plan, may have their RBML reading room privileges revoked and may be asked to leave campus.


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 and library staff have confirmed your appointment, you will be able to request materials. 

All materials you wish to see must be requested at least 5 business days prior to your confirmed appointment.

  • 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. Enter your confirmed appointment date in this field.

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


As of Fall 2020, on-site staff time to review requests for unprocessed materials is extremely limited. We still accept such requests, but there is a high likelihood that we will have to defer access until more staff are available.

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.


Fall 2020 Reading Room Entrance Fall 2020 Reading Room Entrance

Columbia University is not permitting visitors on campus so the RBML is not able to welcome non-Columbia researchers to the reading room at this time. We invite you to access our Digital Collections, request reproductions, or contact us for alternatives to in-person visits.

For current Columbia affiliates (students, faculty, and staff) whose individual research requires consulting RBML materials, the reading room will be available on weekdays beginning September 8, 2020, by advance appointment only.

When arriving for your confirmed appointment, once you have passed the Butler Library security desk, follow the hallway left and take the East elevator to the 6th floor. For the Fall 2020 semester, the RBML reading room is located in 601 Butler, down the hall to the left. Prior to entering the reading room, wash your hands at one of the restrooms near the elevators. Only users with confirmed appointments will be permitted to enter the reading room.


Materials are accessed by appointment in a supervised reading room, an enclosed space where users work in close proximity with one another.

Appointments are for one individual. The reading room cannot accommodate pairs or groups.  

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

  • Wear a face covering over your nose and mouth at all times

  • Keep at least six feet (two arms lengths) apart from other people whenever possible

  • Wash your hands before entering the reading room. Restrooms are located in the East hallway, near the elevators.

  • Registration with valid photo identification (CUID) is required. Every user's photograph is also taken for security purposes.

  • Pencils, laptops, tablets and digital cameras are permitted. Note paper will be provided.

  • Personal belongings including outerwear, backpacks, purses, briefcases, computer cases/sleeves, camera bags, parcels, envelopes, and portfolio folders are not permitted at reading room tables. 

    • A designated carrel within the reading room will be provided for your personal belongings.

  • Reading room temperatures are low to protect collection materials. Outerwear may not be worn but you may consider dressing in layers for comfort.

  • Food and beverages are not permitted.
  • Refrain from using strong perfumes or colognes.
  • Please mute 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 before you leave.

  • 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 reading room manager and indicate which of your requested item(s) you would like to see first. Stay behind the blue lines indicating a safe six foot distance and follow the Reading Room manager’s instructions at all times.

  • 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, let the Reading Room manager know and follow their instructions to return materials. 

Photography 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.


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.