Frequently Asked Questions

For Researchers and Collectors

How can I find out if the Archives has information on an artist or artwork?

First try the search box on the right; this searches all of the collections information and oral history interviews we have at the Archives of American Art.

For an alphabetical list of collections and interviews by name of their creator, see Research Collections. If you are looking specifically for images, try the Image Gallery and Fully Digitized Collections.

If you need further assistance, use the Ask Us form to email our Reference Services staff.

How can I view a collection of archival papers or records?

Each collection is different. The description on this website should indicate whether part or all of the collection has been scanned and is available online, or whether it is available on microfilm.

  • All Online: Fully Digitized Collections can be viewed wholly online, ordered by box and folder, just as you would find them in our reading room.
  • Partly Online: The Image Gallery displays a selection of documents and records which have been digitized and individually described.
  • Microfilm: You may use microfilmed collections at the Archives’ research centers in Washington, DC or New York City, or at one of four affiliated research centers around the country. For details, see Hours & Locations. If you cannot visit a research center, ask your school or public librarian to borrow the microfilm from us. Direct your librarian to: www.aaa.si.edu/askus/interlibrary-loan.
  • Original Materials: Use of collections that have not been microfilmed or digitized requires a visit to our reading room in Washington, D.C. Space is limited, so please submit an appointment request as far in advance of your planned visit as possible.

If you still have questions about how you can access a specific collection, please submit an inquiry (including the URLs of any relevant web pages) to the Reference Services staff via the Ask Us form.

How can I access an oral history interview?

Interviews conducted as part of the Archives of American Art’s Oral History Program are listed alphabetically under Oral History Interviews. A section called “How to Use this Interview” provides details on how that particular interview may be accessed. In addition, the Archives has a number of interviews that were conducted by someone not affiliated with the Archives and later donated to us. At the bottom of these pages, a section called “How to Use this Collection” explains the options for access.

Each interview in our collections has a summary description on this website, accompanied by a transcript when available. Complete audio recordings of interviews are not currently available online; however, some interviews do include MP3 audio excerpts. Complete audio recordings may be available for in-person listening, by appointment, at the Archives’ Washington, D.C. Research Center.

Excerpts from interviews can be made available for use in publications and exhibitions pending approval. Polices, procedures and fee information for reproductions of audio excerpts are available at Use of Audio Recording Excerpts from Oral History Interviews.

If you have questions about how you can access a specific interview, please submit an inquiry (including the URLs of any relevant web pages) to the Reference Services staff via the Ask Us form.

Can you tell me how much an artwork or archival document is worth?

No, we are not permitted to give appraisals nor advise you on how much an object or collection may be worth. We recommend you consult the guide to Researching Your Art, from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

How may I donate papers or archival records to the Archives?

You can see a list of the types of materials we are looking for at Donating Papers to the Archives of American Art, as well as information on how to get in touch with the curatorial staff.

How do I cite microfilm from the Archives’ collections?

Our microfilm collections are owned either by the Archives of American Art or by another organization or individual. In a research paper, citations should read as follows:

  • If owned by the Archives: Collection name, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. [Microfilm reel numbers].
  • If owned by another organization: Collection name. Owned by [Organization name]; microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. [Microfilm reel numbers].
  • If owned by an individual: Collection name. Owned by [owners name]; microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. [Microfilm reel numbers]

For Publishers and Exhibition Curators

How do I get permission to publish documents or images?

For detailed instructions as well as reproduction fees, see Image Rights and Reproductions.

Does the Archives of American Art lend out original documents for exhibitions?

Yes, we have an active program of loaning documents to other institutions. See Borrowing Documents for Exhibitions.

Can I use original audio from the Archives' Oral History Program for a publication or exhibition?

Excerpts of interviews can be made available for use in publications and exhibitions pending approval. Policies, procedures and fee information are available at Use of Audio Recording Excerpts from Oral History Interviews.

For Librarians and Archivists

How do I access the catalog?

This website includes much of the Archives’ collection information found in the shared Smithsonian research catalog, while additionally providing full text search capabilities within our archival finding aids and access to individually cataloged images and documents. If you require the precision of a catalog search, you can find all of the Archives of American Art's records plus other Smithsonian resources in the Smithsonian Institution - Archives, Manuscripts & Photographs Catalog (SIRIS)

Does the Archives do Interlibrary Loans?

Yes, the Archives lends microfilm and oral history transcripts through Interlibrary Loan. Researchers must ask their library to fill out the Interlibrary Loan Request Form on their behalf. Lent materials are for in-library use only. Microfilm requests are limited to 8 reels.

Microfilm and transcripts are sent via U.S. Postal Service. Due date for return of materials is one month from the date shipped. A two week renewal may be granted if the Archives receives your renewal request before the due date. There is no charge for this service. Copyright laws apply. If you have questions, you may contact the ILL Coordinator at (202) 633-7950 or use the Ask Us form to submit a question via email.

Do you have documentation related to digitization or other initiatives that you can share?

We have posted some internal procedures and guidelines to serve as reference points on the Technical Documentation page. If you have questions about a specific initiative, technology, or practice, please feel free to Contact Us. Staff from the Archives of American Art have been active participants in the Library, Archives and Museum communities for many years, and we enjoy sharing information and discussing ideas with our colleagues.