Library: Frequently Asked Questions
Who can use the National Gallery of Art Library, and what are the procedures for visiting?
What size bag may I bring into the library?
May I charge out books from the library?
Is the library’s catalog available over the web?
Does the library offer online databases for art research?
Does the library provide wireless internet access in the reading room?
May I borrow books through interlibrary loan?
May I read books classified as “rare” in the library?
May I take photographs or make digital scans in the library?
How can I find information about an artist?
I have a course assignment to write about a work of art. Can you help?
How can I learn more about an object in the National Gallery of Art?
Where can I find reproductions of works of art on the web?
Where can I buy a poster or postcard of a work of art?
Can I get a copy of, or permission to reproduce, an image owned by the National Gallery of Art?
Where can I find out who holds the copyright of the work of a particular artist?
Where can I get a transcript or a DVD of the 2003 A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts by Kirk Varnedoe?
Where can I find information about art and art history on the web?
Can someone help me estimate the value of a work of art?
Can someone at the Gallery authenticate a work of art that I own?
How can I get advice on repairing or conserving a work of art?
Does the library have pictures of works of art?
How can I learn more about the history of National Gallery of Art—the buildings, exhibitions, and permanent collections?
Does the library offer internships or volunteer opportunities?
Does the library present exhibitions of books?
May I suggest or offer a book to add to the library collection?
May I make a donation to the library?
I still have a question. How can I contact the National Gallery of Art Library?
Who can use the library, and what are the procedures for visiting? top
The library primarily serves the staff and fellows in residence at the National Gallery of Art and welcomes adult researchers, including undergraduate and graduate students. Call (202) 842-6511 to schedule an initial visit. The library is open from noon to 4:30 p.m. Monday and 10:00 to 4:30 Tuesday through Friday (last entry at 4:00 p.m.).
Reference books are available for browsing on the ground floor, but the general stacks are closed. Books do not circulate; thus almost everything in the catalog is available. Readers may request up to ten books per day by registering and submitting requests in person at the circulation desk. Unfortunately the staff cannot retrieve books in advance.
When you arrive at the library, the officer at the Study Center reception desk will remind you to leave coats, books, and bags at the checkroom near the East Building entrance.
What size bag may I bring into the library? top
Bags should not exceed the size of a small paperback book. The officer at the Study Center reception desk will ask readers to return to the East Building coat check to store anything larger than a small purse. This restriction includes cases for laptop computers.
May I charge out books from the library? top
Staff and fellows in residence may charge books to their offices in Gallery buildings, but those books are usually still retrievable, and available for consultation by other readers.
Is the library’s catalog available over the web? top
Mercury, the library catalog, is accessible on site and on the Gallery's public website. Users can search within three sections—books, auction catalogs, and photographs and digital images—by subject, author, title, and keyword. For a sense of titles in order on the shelves, users can also browse by call number. For help using the catalog most effectively, please contact the reference desk.
Does the library offer online databases for art research? top
Some periodical indexes, covering the literature of art history, full-text compilations, and databases are available for in-library use. Contact the reference desk to discuss how best to pursue your research.
Other, no-cost sources of information over the web appear on the library’s web resources directory.
Does the library provide wireless internet access in the reading room? top
The library offers Wi-Fi service in the reading rooms. The reference librarian can provide information about access and use. Networked desktop computers are also available for searching the online catalog and databases and on the web. For personal laptop use, power outlets and comfortable seating can be found throughout the reading room.
May I borrow books through interlibrary loan? top
The library participates in the OCLC interlibrary loan system for lending to and borrowing from other member libraries. The library can neither lend nor borrow on behalf of individuals.
May I read books classified as “rare” in the library? top
Any of the library’s over 12,000 titles printed before 1700 can be retrieved and examined, under supervision of the circulation desk staff, in the reading room. Each book is listed and described on Mercury, the library’s online catalog. Call (202) 842-6511 for more information. Click here for information about the library's rare books
May I take photographs or make digital scans in the library? top
Reproductions of books may be made using a small handheld device such as a smartphone, or the photocopy machines in the northeast corner of the reading room.
The researcher is responsible for determining and adhering to copyright regulations (TITLE 17, U.S. Code).
Information about rare book scanning can be found here.
How can I find information about an artist? top
One avenue is to visit the library and consult reference books such as biographical dictionaries or studies on the artist’s nationality and time period. Because the library’s stacks are closed, however, it is usually better to begin your research at a local public or university library. The reference desk staff can advise you on helpful books available in the library or on resources in your area.
For reading in more detail, consult the library’s online catalog, Mercury, for holdings of monographs on individual artists. Readers can examine ten books per day.
For information about artists on the web, see the page for web resources.
Library reference staff can answer specific queries about artists and art history over the phone and by e-mail. Since information about artists in the library is organized by name, an accurate spelling, along with period and nationality is usually necessary to proceed. Library staff cannot answer questions about the value or comment on authenticity or artists' work.
I have a course assignment to write about a work of art. Can you help? top
The library welcomes students and scholars at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels. We suggest that students first explore the online catalog to check holdings and telephone a reference librarian to discuss how to proceed.
How can I learn more about an object in the National Gallery of Art? top
Please go to The Collections to call up information about individual works, including suggested reading in the bibliography section included in each record.
For an appointment to review files on paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts in the permanent collection, contact the curatorial records office.
Where can I find reproductions of works of art on the web? top
Digital images of many works in the collection of the National Gallery of Art are viewable and downloadable at NGA Images, which you can search or browse.
Images of works outside the Gallery may be found through the library’s web resources directory.
Queries in general search engines for specific artists' names and titles of works can be especially fruitful.
Where can I buy a poster or postcard of a work of art? top
Many sites on the internet offer posters and postcards for sale. We recommend you use a search engine, with the name of the artist and title of the work in question.
For reproductions on paper of works in the National Gallery of Art, please contact the Gallery Shop.
Can I get a copy of, or permission to reproduce, an image owned by the National Gallery of Art? top
To obtain a photograph of, or the rights to reproduce, an image owned by the National Gallery of Art, contact the Division of Visual Services. For images or pages of text from books in the library, contact the library.
Where can I find out who holds the copyright of the work of a particular artist? top
Information can be found online to help answer questions on copyright for specific artists. Use a search engine on terms such as the artist's name and the word “copyright.”
The library has directories of artists and their representatives in the United States. Call the reference desk for information at (202) 842-6511.
Where can I get a transcript or a DVD of the 2003 A. W. Mellon Lectures in the fine arts by Kirk Varnedoe? top
The lectures were published in book form by Princeton University Press (Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art since Pollock, 2006). The volume is for sale in the National Gallery of Art Shop. Gallery Archives can make appointments for visitors to review a video recording of the 2003 lectures. Contact the archives for an appointment. An audio podcast is available on the National Gallery of Art website.
Where can I find information about art and art history on the web? top
Along with careful search engine queries, readers can use web directories and portals to explore resources on the web. See the directory of web resources for suggested sites.
Can someone help me estimate the value of a work of art? top
National professional associations such as the American Society of Appraisers, International Society of Appraisers, and Appraisers Association of America can help identify suitable local appraisers and provide information about their members’ level of training as well as definitions of “appraisal” and “authentication.” A researcher can then contact specific appraisers to ascertain expertise, experience, and fees and to request a portfolio containing qualifications. Although an initial discussion may be complimentary, appraisers charge for consultation, travel, photography, and time.
Can someone at the National Gallery of Art authenticate a work of art that I own? top
Authentication usually requires first-hand examination. We urge you to consult dealers or appraisers in your area or to contact auction houses for advice appropriate to the object itself.
How can I get advice on repairing or conserving a work of art? top
We recommend contacting the American Institute for Conservation. The AIC website presents guides to solving conservation problems and choosing a local conservator. The Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Conservation Institute addresses many types of objects.
Does the library have pictures of works of art? top
The library’s image collections contain more than 14 million images for examination and comparison.
How can I learn more about the history of the National Gallery of Art—the buildings, exhibitions, and permanent collections? top
An introduction to the history of the Gallery, America’s National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation, by Philip Kopper, is available in public libraries and the Gallery Shop as well as in the National Gallery of Art Library.
Gallery Archives, which preserves the papers and records of the Gallery from its inception, may be visited by appointment.
Does the National Gallery of Art Library offer internships or volunteer opportunities? top
The library welcomes local and visiting students, art historians, and others interested in volunteering to work in a variety of capacities. Past projects have included designing and compiling databases, assisting with interlibrary loan, cataloguing images, and helping to organize the vertical files. To inquire, please send a letter and résumé to Anne H. Simmons, Reference Librarian, [email protected].
Does the library present exhibitions of books? top
Volumes from the rare books collection are occasionally included in the Gallery's exhibitions of paintings and sculpture. The library regularly presents exhibitions in the series "From the Library" in the West Building, Ground Floor, Gallery 21. Finally, books may be loaned to other institutions or travel as part of exhibitions.
Under the direction of the librarian for rare books, revolving thematic displays of books, journals, and photographs drawn from the library’s collections appear as part of the series "In the Library" in the atrium of the Study Center. To view the current exhibition, stop by the security desk at the entrance to the Study Center, Monday through Friday during library hours.
May I suggest or offer a book to add to the library collection? top
The library welcomes suggestions for additions to its collection. Recommendations and gifts are evaluated in accordance with the library's collection development policies and goals.
May I make a donation to the library? top
The library is grateful for contributions that underwrite the mission of the National Gallery of Art and provide for the collections of the library. For books, the library would welcome a list of offered titles with publication information. Contact the executive librarian by writing to [email protected] or National Gallery of Art, 2000B South Club Drive, Landover, MD 20785. For photographic material or prints that document works of art and architecture, please contact the department of image collections at [email protected] to discuss your archive.
Financial gifts should be discussed with the executive librarian or the Gallery’s development office.
I still have a question. How can I contact the National Gallery of Art Library? top
Please feel free to contact us. You may also telephone the reference desk, at (202) 842-6511, or write to National Gallery of Art Library, 2000-B South Club Drive, Landover, MD 20785.
Monday, noon to 4:30 p.m. (last entry at 4:00 p.m.)
Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (last entry at 4:00 p.m.)
(except federal holidays)
For information on volunteer opportunities in the National Gallery of Art Library, please send a letter and résumé to
Reference Librarian, [email protected].