Spencer Art Reference Library

Supporting the museum’s collection


The library is happy to be able to welcome visitors back starting August 27, 2020! To make social distancing possible, the library reading room will be able to accommodate fewer people. To ensure you’re able to use the library at a specific time please schedule your visit using the Contact US link below. Drop-in visitors will be welcomed as space permits.

All visitors will need to sign-in to facilitate the museum’s support of contact tracing and follow safety protocols including wearing gloves, when browsing the reading room stacks, and a mask during your visit.

Library Hours

Monday, 10 – 5
Thursday & Friday: 10 – 5
First Saturday of the month: 10 – 5

The library will be closed the following days:
Friday, December 24 — Monday, December 27
Friday, December 31
Saturday, January 1

Contact Us
Reference Desk: 816-751-1216

Library Public Staff
Amelia Nelson, Head, Library and Archives
Tara Laver, Archivist

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The Spencer Art Reference Library makes 248,000 materials accessible to anyone interested in exploring the visual arts.

Search the Catalog
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Frequently Asked Questions

Visitors may also search digital subscription resources including art encyclopedias, historic newspapers, full-text and indexed articles as well as art sales databases. Digital resources are searchable from public computer stations in the library reading room.

Search Digital Resources

Research Guides
Need to research an item in the museum’s collection or learn more about a piece of artwork from your own collection? Guides in this section provide strategies on how to start.

View Research Guides


Browse, Doodle, Chat & Create
This is an on-going series co-hosted by the Spencer Art Reference Library and the Educator Resource Center. Get inspired! Participants will use the unique resources in the Spencer Art Reference Library and the Educator Resource Center as a starting point for creative exploration.

Explore the Hidden Life of your Objects
This is an on-going series where participants can use the resources in the library to learn more about their treasures. Bring photos of your object to learn how to unlock its past using resources in the Spencer Art Reference Library. Sorry no appraisals.

Explore More
The library supports museum exhibitions, scholarship and free-choice learning with unique programs throughout the year. Check the calendar to find out what’s on the horizon.

Archives & Special Collections

The Archives documents the history and activities of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Nelson Gallery Foundation, the William Rockhill Nelson Trust and other affiliated organizations. As a supplement to the official record, the Archives also collects the personal papers and manuscript material of former museum staff and other individuals associated with the museum.

Materials in the Museum Archives are available to the public by appointment only. Call 816-751-1354 to schedule an appointment.

Explore the Archives

Archives Hours
Tuesday–Friday, 8 am-4 pm

Special Collections
The special collections include materials of institutional importance, such as museum founder William Rockhill Nelson’s Oak Hall Collection, the Karen Gould teaching collection of Medieval leaves and many more rare publications.

Local Artists

Artists’ File Initiative
The library works with local artists to document the careers of artists practicing in the Kansas City community.

These files are as unique as the artists’ careers they document and may include artist statements, gallery announcements, resumes and exhibition checklists.

Explore Artists’ Files

Missouri Remembers

In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the State of Missouri, The Spencer Art Reference Library of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is embarking on an initiative to document the artists of Missouri’s past.