Collection - FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

The Newberry collects, preserves, and provides access to primary sources in the humanities (such as rare books, manuscripts, and maps). Our collection also includes secondary literature that can help researchers interpret and understand original source materials.

No. All items in the Newberry collection are available for you to use in our reading rooms. Because many items require special care and handling, and are irreplaceable if lost or damaged, they cannot be checked out and taken home.

No! Use of collection items in our reading rooms is free and open to anyone over the age of 14 or in the ninth grade studying a topic relevant to our collection.

If you’re under the age of 14, we encourage you to email or call the Newberry reference staff with research questions. Although the reading rooms are not open to younger researchers, the Newberry’s email and phone reference service is available to everyone.

How to get a Newberry reader's card

Tens of thousands of digital images from our collection are available in the Newberry’s digital collections. Under our open access policy, you’re free to use these images however you like, as long as you follow copyright law.

A much larger number of items haven’t been digitized yet. While our digital collections are continually growing, the digitization process takes time!

Information about our entire collection can be found through the Newberry’s online catalog and finding aids for archival collections.

Yes! Using your Newberry reader’s account online, you can request high-resolution TIFF files as well as PDF, AVI, MP3, MP4, and WAV files.

How to order digital files

If you are visiting the library to use our collection in person, you can find items of interest by searching our online catalog or finding aids and inventories for archival collections.

Want a few pointers on how to run different kinds of searches using the online catalog? Our librarians have created a brief guide with some tips for getting started.

If you're looking for digital images of items in the collection, you can search and browse in the Newberry’s digital collections.

The Newberry’s collection is primarily stored in a climate-controlled stacks building. The stacks aren’t open to researchers. Newberry staff retrieve items from the stacks and bring them to researchers in the reading rooms. Reference collections are available for browsing in the reading rooms and reference center.

The collection consists of about 1.6 million books, 600,000 maps, and 1,300 distinct archival collections containing approximately 5 million manuscript pages. In addition, you’ll find more than 500,000 different postcards, about 250,000 pieces of sheet music, and much more at the Newberry.

The oldest items in our collection are cuneiform tablets from around 2200 BC.

The oldest manuscript document is a papyrus fragment with 15 lines of The Iliad from the first century AD.

The oldest printed text is a Buddhist dharani printed in Japan between the years 764 and 770 AD.

Value is so subjective! As a research library, the Newberry does not collect with resale or monetary value in mind. Each of the items in the collection holds research value, and each researcher will have a different “most valuable” item.

There are no secret collections at the Newberry. Items are made available for use when they are added to our online catalog and online archival inventories.

A small number of items are sometimes unavailable for periods of time due to exhibitions, conservation treatment, or other uses. Some others require an appointment for viewing or special conditions for use due to fragility or other factors, as noted in their catalog records or archival collection inventories.

Many of the materials at the Newberry were donations of a collection built by a private collector, the archive of an organization, or the papers of an individual or family. The Newberry’s curators and selectors continue to build the collection through gifts from these same sources as well as through purchases from booksellers and auction houses.

Learn about our collection development policy

Please get in touch with the appropriate contact depending on the nature of the material you have. If you can't find an appropriate contact, please send an email to or call our Reference Desk at (312) 255-3512 and a staff member will assist you.

No. The Newberry does not offer appraisals of books, maps, or other library materials. Please see our guide to appraisal resources.

No. The Newberry does not offer conservation consultations for private collections. Our conservation staff has created a guide to Conservation Resources.

The Newberry welcomes reference inquiries by mail, email, and telephone. Contact a librarian for questions about the library’s collections and resources. 

We regret that we are unable to conduct extensive research on your behalf. Consider hiring an independent researcher for in-depth queries or genealogical research. See our list of independent researchers.

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