Spencer Art Reference Library
Specialized Resources for Everyone

Free and open to all who are interested in learning about the visual arts.

The Spencer Art Reference Library and Archives enriches lives by facilitating users’ discovery of information needed to advance knowledge, create meaningful experiences and support life-long learning through programs, research assistance and access to vibrant and diverse collections.


Monday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Thursday & Friday: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
First Saturday of the month: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

In addition to the museum’s holiday closures, the library will be closed the following days:

  • Monday, January 15
  • Monday, May 27
  • Thursday, July 4
  • Monday, September 2
  • Thursday, November 28


Located on the top floor of the Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Spencer Art Reference Library has a non-circulating collection of over 270,000 publications supporting research in the visual arts. The collection’s strengths correspond to the museum’s curatorial departments including American, Asian, African, Modern and Contemporary, Decorative, European, Kansas City artists, Native American, photography and South and Southeast Asian arts.

The library is free and open to all. Designed by award-winning architect Steven Holl, the library’s reading room features four public access computer terminals, free Wi-Fi and a browsing collection of ready reference materials and hundreds of current art journals.

Unique offerings include exhibition and auction catalogs, catalogues raisonnés, international art journals, museum publications from around the world, and many resources that document local art and artists. 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.

The Archives of the Nelson-Atkins house the institution’s records that document the origins, development, achievements, and activities of the museum, as well as personal papers of selected, key former staff.

All resources are searchable in the Library Catalog. Library visiting researchers have full access to all the library’s collections when visiting the reading room in-person.

Reading in the Library


Reference Desk: 816-751-1216

The library is located on the second floor of the Bloch building in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Follow the Spencer Art Reference Library on Facebook.


The Spencer Art Reference Library’s entire collection is searchable and requestable online.
Search the Catalog

Setup your library account and get answers to commonly asked questions.
Getting Started

Explore the library’s research guides and online subscription resources.
Expand Your Search


4 women looking at physical documents from the Archives

The Archives serve as the corporate memory of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art by preserving and providing access to the institution’s records that document the origins, development, achievements, and activities of the museum. Our collections also include Nelson-Atkins publications and the personal papers and manuscript collections of people related to the museum, such as curators, trustees, and educators.

Materials in the Museum Archives are available to the public by appointment only. Contact us with research inquiries or to schedule an appointment.


Monday–Friday, 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m.

Explore the Archives


The Spencer Art Reference Library’s entire collection is searchable and requestable online.

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.
Artist File Initiative

Missouri Remembers
Inspired by the 200th anniversary of the State of Missouri, The Spencer Art Reference Library of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in partnership with the Kansas City Art Institute and The St. Louis Public Library created a freely available website documenting the artists who have been active in Missouri throughout its history. Use this resource to learn about the artists, exhibitions, and institutions that have defined the state’s artistic culture.
Missouri Remembers

Contact us with questions and if you have information on Missouri artists.