We encourage respectful, non-disruptive, and productive use of collections and spaces for research and study. We take seriously the rights and safety of library users and staff. All users and staff are expected to treat each other with courtesy, respect, and kindness.

Library users are to:

Present user or visitor identification to obtain access or upon request of authorizedstaff.

Behave in a manner that is not disruptive or threatening to others.

Abide by the Libraries’ food, drink, and study space guidelines.

Refrain from using personal belongings to save study spaces.

Work only in designated study spaces and observe established service hours.

Respect private and institutional property and collections and adhere to the Libraries’ policies related to their use.

Refrain from deliberately misplacing or hiding Libraries materials.

Limit wheeled vehicle use to strollers and equipment used by persons with disabilities.

Post flyers or signage in the Libraries only on public bulletin boards.

Respond to emergencies, alarms, and other situations as instructed by Libraries or Public Safety staff.

The Columbia University Libraries may limit or refuse access to individuals or groups who fail to comply with these guidelines or exhibit behaviors prohibited by law or University policy.

Columbia University Libraries is grateful for the generosity of its donors and welcomes gifts of materials that will significantly advance the scholarly, research, and teaching mission of the University.  

Please review how to donate books or items before making a visit or inquiry. 

Mission Statement

Columbia University Libraries recognizes the fundamental importance of original documents and visual materials, historical artifacts, rare printed volumes, prints, and other primary sources to research and intellectual exchange. In order for this cultural heritage to be more widely disseminated among the broader academic and interested public, it is the policy of CUL to lend material from its collections to exhibitions in museums, galleries, and other venues that demonstrate a commitment to an educational and scholarly mission.

CUL also recognizes its fundamental role as caretaker of these cultural artifacts and will lend material only to institutions with facilities capable of exhibiting the items safely. A decision to lend will depend on several factors, including the condition and value of the object, its scholarly relevance to the exhibition and ongoing research, and the facilities of the borrowing institution.  CUL will enter into loan agreements only when the conditions set forth by the following document are met satisfactorily.

1. Initial Loan Inquiry

a. All loan requests should be submitted with as much lead time as possible to ensure adequate condition assessment, conservation, preparation, and processing time.

b. Initial inquiries describing the exhibition, preferably in writing, should be made 12 months in advance of the beginning of the loan period. Requests made with insufficient lead time for necessary loan processing may be refused.

c. Shortly after the initial inquiry, a preliminary evaluation of the requested material will be made. The prospective borrower will be notified of any special circumstances surrounding the request, such as anticipated conservation needs, complex mounting problems, unusual packing and shipping requirements, or restrictions on the loan of the requested item(s).

d. Initial inquiries should be made to the following individuals:

Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
Art Properties

Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
Avery Classics (Rare Books Collection)

Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
Drawings and Archives Collection

Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary

Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Public Services and Programs Librarian

Starr East Asian Library

University Archives and Columbiana Library

All other libraries
Director for Preservation

2. Making a Formal Request: Letter & Loan Agreement Form

a. To make a request to borrow an item or items for exhibition, a letter should be addressed to the appropriate library director or the head of the relevant collection. The contacts listed above will provide you with name and address of the appropriate person to whom to direct the request.

b. The letter should be sent from the director (or highest officer) of the borrowing institution as early as possible, but at least six months in advance of the loan period.

c. The letter should include the most current information regarding the following:

  • title of exhibition
  • dates of exhibition
  • place of exhibition, including tour venues (if applicable)
  • title(s) or name(s) of work(s) being requested; for books, indicate page opening for display
  • name(s) of exhibition curator(s)
  • description of the premise or purpose of the exhibition
  • information about catalog (general contents, name of publisher, etc.)
  • date work(s) needed for loan
  • assurance that all costs (loan fees, packing, shipping, insurance, etc.) will be paid by borrower
  • statement of availability of facilities report upon request

d. The loan agreement form may be sent with the formal request, or later, after the lender has agreed in principle to the loan.  However, please note that a signed loan agreement must be executed before the beginning of the loan period.

e. Following receipt of a letter, the CUL director or head of collection will evaluate the request. The work will be examined by a conservator to determine whether it can travel and be exhibited safely.

  • If conservation is necessary, the borrower will be informed of the estimated cost; if the cost of treatment is approved by the borrower, the borrower will be invoiced for the expense.
  • Among other possible fees are matting, framing, the construction of a book cradle or other mount, loan fees, and photography for use in the catalog or for other exhibition-related purposes.
  • Among the conditions to be specified by CUL are the method of packing and shipping and the light, temperature, and humidity levels during exhibition.
  • The borrower may be asked to provide a facilities report.
  • For a work of high value, a courier may be required (including costs for transportation, hotel, per diem).

3. Facilities Report

a. A facilities report for the exhibition venue must be provided if requested by CUL; if the exhibit is to travel, include a separate report for each venue on the schedule.

b. The American Association of Museums Standard Facility Report (ISBN 0-931201-55-1) is strongly preferred. The blank template for this document may be purchased from the AAM Bookstore (202-289-9127) or through the AAM website.

c. If a different facilities report format is used, it must provide detailed information on all topics listed under Section C, "Facilities report," in Guidelines for Borrowing and Lending Special Collections Materials for Exhibition (Rare Books and Manuscripts Section, Association of College and Research Libraries).

d. An incomplete facilities report may delay the processing of a loan request, or cause the request to be turned down.

4. Fees & Expenses

a. Per item loan fee

The standard loan fee is $100.00 per item. The loan fee covers time spent on processing the loan, making the condition report, and preparing the item for exhibition.

b. The borrower is also responsible for the following fees and expenses:

  • All transportation costs, including packing and crating, freight, customs charges, and brokers' fees, as well as courier expenses, if applicable.
  • Any conservation treatment, framing, matting, or fabrication of custom mounts that may be necessary for the safe travel and exhibition of the item(s).
  • Insurance coverage of the loan material; a copy of the certificate of insurance must be provided prior to the loan.
  • Any photography necessary for the loan, including reproduction for publication.  All photography will be done by CUL before the loan at a per image fee.  Additional information about reprographic services and fees.

5. Conditions of Loan

a. Assumption of Care

CUL expects the borrowing institution to adhere to accepted professional standards at all stages of the exhibition process, including such matters as security, installation methods, and maintenance of proper environmental controls at all times. If the conditions outlined below cannot be maintained throughout the exhibition, the borrower must notify CUL promptly to discuss appropriate next steps.

b. Packing and Transportation

CUL usually packs the items going out on loan, and will require that all items be repacked for return in exactly the same manner as when they were sent to the borrowing institution. For some items, packing may need to be done by a fine arts handler engaged by the borrower. Any changes in repacking should be discussed in advance between borrower and lender.

CUL will specify how the material is to be transported and will ask the borrower to make appropriate transportation arrangements. An approved fine art mover is usually required for transport of CUL property. Full details of transportation should be discussed as early in the procedure as possible. In some instances, CUL may require that items be accompanied to and from the loan site by a courier. The courier’s presence will be required at all times during the transport, unpacking, installation, de-installation, and repacking of the borrowed material.

c. International loans

Loans to countries outside the United States will require the assistance of a reputable customs broker who should be contacted well in advance of the loan arrival date. Customs formalities and the provision of export licenses to and from the exhibition site are the responsibility of the borrower. Objects should not be unpacked in transit for customs inspection, but passed through in bond to the exhibition site. It is the international borrower’s responsibility to meet any courier upon arrival, to have a customs broker on hand, and to escort the courier and the loaned items to and from the exhibition site. Overseas loans must be transported by air.

d. Condition

When the material is received, the borrower should inspect it upon unpacking, compare it with the condition report provided by CUL, and record its condition. Any damage or discrepancies must be reported immediately by telephone and subsequently in writing to CUL. Unless specific advance permission has been obtained from CUL, the borrower must not alter, clean, or repair items, frames, or mounts in any way.  The inspection and condition reporting process should be repeated at each venue for traveling exhibitions.

e. Exhibition environment and lighting

CUL reserves the right to specify the conditions for any individual item, and to verify that the required conditions can be maintained at the loan venue.  The loan period for light-sensitive items may be restricted to a short period, or CUL may require that items or pages be rotated at set intervals during the exhibition. For more information, see ANSI/NISO Standard Z39.79-2001, Environmental Conditions for Exhibiting Library and Archival Materials.

For most paper-based materials, CUL requires that the temperature in exhibition, packing, and storage areas be maintained at 70 degrees F, with fluctuations of no more than 4 degrees F in any 24-hour period. The relative humidity in the exhibition, packing, and storage areas should be kept at 50% with fluctuations of no more than 5% in any 24-hour period. For some loans, dated records from a hygrothermograph or datalogger may be required before the loan is approved; the lender may be required to send environmental reports periodically throughout the loan period.

Lighting in the exhibition area should adhere to the following general guidelines for paper-based library materials:

  • All ultraviolet (UV) radiation must be excluded.
  • Maximum 10 footcandles/100 lux for most printed book pages, broadsides, prints, and black-and-white silver gelatin photographs.
  • Maximum 5 footcandles/50 lux for most manuscripts, textiles (including cloth book covers), colored papers, drawings, watercolors, miniatures, color photographs, 19th-century photographs (e.g. albumen prints, salt prints).
  • Maximum 25 footcandles/250 lux for oil paintings.

f. Catalog and other publications

At least one copy of the printed exhibition catalog and any other publication(s) should be provided to CUL without charge.

g. Right of recall

CUL reserves the right to recall an item at any time if the terms of the loan are not met for the duration of the loan period.

h. The borrowing institution may be required to provide information pertaining to accreditation and governance, policies concerning public access to exhibitions, and compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

6. Reproduction

a. CUL will specify whether the borrowed material may be reproduced in any way for publicity or other purposes while under the care of the borrowing institution.

b. As owner of unique and valuable cultural artifacts, CUL requires that surrogates of these objects – in print, media, digital, and other formats – reproduce the qualities of the original items as accurately as possible. Reproductions of items may not be altered by cropping, colorizing, reversing, bleeding, overprinting, digital editing, or any other method without prior permission.

c. Items must appear as an illustration to text. Any decorative use of the image – as background, endpapers, or other uses – requires the express written consent of CUL.

d. CUL will specify the credit line for all reproductions.

e. In order to assure safe and accurate reproduction of CUL property, CUL requires the use of CUL reprographic services.

Columbia University Libraries

The Columbia University Libraries supports and complies with New York State Law (New York State Civil Practice Law & Rules 4508, Chapter 112, Laws of 1988) with respect to the confidentiality of library records. All library records relating to an individual patron's use of the library and its resources are confidential. These records may be consulted and used by library staff in the course of carrying out library operations, but will not be disclosed to others except upon the request or consent of the library user, or pursuant to subpoena, court order, or otherwise required by law. Such disclosure may be made only by Directors in consultation with the University Librarian and University Counsel.

New York State Civil Practice Law & Rules 4509, Chapter 112, Laws of 1988

Library records, which contain names or other personally identifying details regarding the users of public, free association, school, college and university libraries and library systems of this state, including but not limited to records relating to the circulation of library materials, computer database searches, interlibrary loan transactions, reference queries, requests for photocopies of library materials, title reserve requests, or the use of audio-visual materials, films or records, shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed except that such records may be disclosed to the extent necessary for the proper operation of the library and shall be disclosed upon request or consent of the user or pursuant to subpoena, court order or where otherwise required by statute.

Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information 

There are 24-hour recorded video cameras in the Libraries to support the security and safety of all library users and staff. The security cameras provide direct feeds to the Department of Public Safety on campus. Footage is viewed only in the event of an active investigation of a reported incident.

We are dedicated to building and stewarding collections that have the greatest impact on research, teaching, and learning at Columbia. Our collection choices and long-term stewardship plans are made with regard to the advancement of the mission and goals of Columbia University. Our collections are dynamic, responsive, and purposefully developed to realize the value of collections that have defined the our strengths in the past as well as resources that have been traditionally overlooked. Collections are being shaped and continually enriched in ways that advance access to heritage materials representing varied contours of knowledge and diversity of content.  

Go to Collection Development Policies & Strategies

  1. A central mission of Columbia University Libraries (CUL) is to make its collections available in support of research and scholarship by members of the Columbia University community and others. In support of this mission, CUL provides access to online exhibitions and its digital collections for purposes that include highlighting the collections, providing information about the collections and the materials contained in them, and encouraging broader discovery.
  2. Users of materials in the Libraries collections, including its online exhibitions and digital collections, must respect copyright and other legal rights held by other parties that may affect their subsequent use. Where materials are protected by copyright law, CUL provides access to them in its online exhibitions or its digital collections for educational, scholarly and research purposes.
  3. Many of the materials included in the online exhibitions and in the digital collections are not copyright protected, and they are made available without restrictions. The online exhibitions or digital collections may also include materials that are protected by copyright, subject to license or other rights, such as rights of privacy or the use of names and likenesses.  You may have to seek permission from the rights holder to reproduce and otherwise use the materials. Alternatively, you may be able to use the exhibitions, digital collections and the materials contained in them as permitted by law, such as under fair use and other copyright exceptions.  Columbia University makes no representation about the copyright or other legal status of the materials.  It is your responsibility to investigate and, if needed, clear rights to use these materials.
  4. The materials are displayed “as is” and without warranties of any kind, either express or implied, including any warranties of title, non-infringement of copyright or other rights.
  5. You are welcome to link to our online exhibitions or digital collections for educational and research purposes. If you wish to publish or reproduce materials in the online exhibitions or the digital collections, please see: Columbia University Libraries Publication & Digital Reproduction Policy and Procedures.  
  6. If you have questions, comments, or additional information related to our online exhibitions or digital collections, please contact: digitalprojects@library.columbia.edu
  7. If you are a copyright owner and believe that your rights have been infringed, please see Copyright – Columbia University in the City of New York.

Group Study & Presentation Practice Rooms

The Room Reservation system allows current Columbia and Barnard students to reserve a room for collaborative group study and/or presentation practice from any of the following library locations:

  • Butler Library (4th Floor)
  • Lehman Social Sciences Library (SIPA 3rd Floor)
  • Science & Engineering Library (Northwest Corner Building - upper level of library)


  1. Group Study and Presentation Practice Rooms are for use by current Columbia and Barnard students. A group is defined as two or more students.
  2. An individual may use a room on a walk-in basis only if the room has no active reservation. Individual users must vacate the room when requested by a group with proof of valid registration.
  3. These rooms are intended only for collaborative study and/or presentation practice; they ARE NOT for meetings, classes, TA office hours, or other non-study uses.
  4. These rooms are available for reservation during times when their respective Library is open.
  5. Reservations can only be made up to two weeks in advance.
  6. Reservations can only be scheduled by an individual (UNI required) in half-hour increments up to two hours per day per library location, up to 6 hours total per week per library location.
    • A one week period is defined as midnight Sunday through 11:59pm Saturday.
  7. Proof of registration is required. Please print or have electronic access to your room reservation confirmation email. Be prepared to show proof of registration at any time during your reserved time slot.
  8. A group that is 15 minutes late forfeits the reservation.
  9. Please respect your fellow students; keep noise to a minimum.
  10. Remove all belongings and dispose of trash when you leave so it is ready for the next group.

Please contact individual libraries with questions about specific locations.

Columbia University Library facilities are private property and are subject to restrictions allowable by law. The following policies are designed to ensure that libraries are able to maintain study spaces and service areas without disruption and that each user's right to privacy is respected. 

For full University policies, please see Columbia University News Media and Filming Policies

Photography and Film

Requests to professionally photograph or film in any library location must generally be limited to regular operating hours of the requested library facility. Please reference the Library Hours page for details, and the Library Locations page for an outline of all facilities.  Individuals or crews using cameras must be accompanied by an assigned communications officer or other designated University escort at all times.  Media personnel that have been granted permission to enter library facilities must clearly display valid credentials. Requests to obtain "broadcast roll" in any library facility requires permission and an assigned escort.

Academic recesses are the best time to film at Butler Library and other library facilities. During midterm and finals periods, it is unlikely requests will be granted. Please reference the University Academic Calendar for dates. All commercial and documentary productions are subject to location and support fees, based on the scope of work.  For more information, please visit the University Event Management Website

  • To submit a request for a commercial, for-profit photography or film shoot, please do so through the Columbia University Events Management system.  

  • To submit a request for journalistic news media photography or film shoots, documentaries, or for student projects, e-mail the Libraries Communications Office at least two weeks prior to desired shoot date with the following criteria:

            Desired date, time and location of shoot
            Brief description of project
            Crew size
            Description of equipment
            Time duration of shoot
            Library materials requested

Event Access

Libraries events are open to media visits with advanced approval. To gain access, the media outlet must agree to comply with these policies and must display valid credentials. Media attending events must remain seated in a designated section unless permission is given to move elsewhere. 

To request permission to attend a Libraries event or exhibit, please contact the Libraries Communications Office in advance of the event at 212-854-5289.