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American Women: Resources from the Manuscript Collections

Visiting the Manuscript Reading Room

Attention: All researchers are advised to contact the Manuscript Reading Room prior to visiting. Many collections are stored off-site, or may have access restrictions, and advance notice is needed to retrieve these items for research use. Researchers interested in consulting any of the division's collections are strongly encouraged to write the Manuscript Reading Room via the Ask a Librarian form or email at [email protected] to inquire about the status of collections of interest.
Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. [Entrance Hall. Bronze medallion with profile of James Madison, by Robert Alexander Weinman (above doorway to Manuscript Reading Room). Library of Congress James Madison Building, Washington, D.C.]. 2007. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Manuscript Reading Room is located in room LM-101 of the Library’s James Madison Memorial Building. The room is open Mondays through Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and no specific appointment is needed for admittance. Please note that researchers must be above high school age to register.

First-time users and those who have not used the Library's reading rooms within the last two years will first need to visit the Reader's Registration office in the James Madison Memorial Building, Room LM-133 (in the Newspaper & Current Periodicals & Newspaper Reading Room) or the Jefferson Building, Room LJ-139 (in the Microform and Electronic Resources Center) to obtain or update Library identification card at no cost. A valid, government-issued photographic identification is required for this process, such as a driver's license or passport.

It is possible to pre-register online by completing a simple Web form (this can be done up to two weeks prior to visiting the Library of Congress in person), but users who pre-register will still need to report to the Reader Registration Station and present valid identification.

All researchers are advised to contact the Manuscript Reading Room prior to visiting. Several factors may affect access to collections in the custody of the Manuscript Division:

  • Collections stored in an offsite facility must be requested in advance. A list of offsite collections may be found on the Manuscript Division's website. Contact reading room room staff to place an order for offsite material to be delivered to the reading room for use.
  • Access to some collections is affected by administrative or donor-imposed restrictions. The presence of a restriction is noted in the catalog record and finding aid for a collection; however, the nature of a restriction varies widely. Contact reading room staff to request additional information regarding access to restricted collections.
  • In accordance with Manuscript Division policy, minors and high school students are not admitted to the Manuscript Reading Room.
  • For preservation reasons, if a collection has been reproduced onto microfilm or in a digital collection either in whole or in part, Manuscript Division policy requires readers to consult the microfilm or digital surrogate. Microfilm reader machines in the reading room are equipped to save microfilm pages to a personal (USB) flash drive; and users may wish to bring a flash drive to the reading room for this purpose.

Readers not able to visit the Manuscript Reading Room may order reproductions of manuscript material for a fee through the Library's Duplication Services unit. Contact Duplication Services staff for information about pricing and placing an order. Often microfilm reels are available for InterLibrary loan. For further information, see the website of the Library's Loan Division or contact reading room staff.

Lockers are provided in the Manuscript Reading Room at no cost to store personal belongings. Books and large sheaves of notes are not admitted into the reading room, but laptop computers are allowed, and power outlets are provided for them at most reading desks. A limited number of pages of notes are admitted, but each page must be stamped at the reference desk upon your arrival, and each page is checked by the security officer upon your departure. Please note that paper copies of all finding aids are available for consultation in the reading room, and computers are provided for access to those finding aids that are also available online.

Pens are not permitted in the reading room, but users may bring pencils. Additional pencils paper, and notecards are available for use. Cameras are permitted for the purpose of making reference copies of collections and tripods and copy stands may be used subject to the approval of the reference staff. Personal scanners are prohibited and any soft cases, bags, and other containers must be stored in the provided locker.

Further information is available on the Manuscript Reading Room's website.

Readers may take photographs of items in the collections, but must use existing light only; no flash photography is permitted. Tripods and copy stands may be used subject to the approval of the reference staff. Photography is allowed only for reference reproductions of collection material. No photographs of individuals or of the Reading Room itself are permitted.

With the approval of the reference staff, readers may make copies of manuscript material using machines in the reading room. Copies cost twenty cents per page, and payment is made using a debit or credit card, or copy cards sold through machines placed around the Library campus. In addition, overhead scanners are available to save images to personal USB flash drives at no cost. Personal scanners are prohibited.

Readers must bring all manuscripts to the desk for examination and approval by reference staff before scanning or photocopying. Only one folder at a time may be withdrawn for reproduction. Bound manuscript material may not be photocopied. Additional reasons for not allowing copying include 1) donor or library-imposed restrictions, 2) fragile condition, 3) restrictions imposed by other repositories, 4) national security classifications.

Orders for reproductions may also be placed for a fee through the Library's Duplication Services. Information about pricing and placing an order is available on the Duplication Services website.