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

Monday, July 1 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Thursday July 4 & Friday July 5: CLOSED
First Saturday of the month July 6: CLOSED


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

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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.


Karen Gould Collection Research Awards

The Spencer Art Reference Library is pleased to offer three research awards to anyone wishing to visit the library and to work in person with the Karen Gould Collection of Medieval Manuscripts. This teaching collection was donated to the library by Professor Emeritus Lewis Gould and was built over a lifetime by his late wife Dr. Karen Keel Gould, a medieval art historian and published scholar. The collection has grown from 26 to 69 items; with particularly strong holdings of leaves from Books of Hours, which was an area of interest for Karen Gould. During her career, Dr. Gould used her teaching collection to connect students to the past by sharing how these leaves were made, the significance of the content, and how these materials survived to be studied by us today. She believed that these physical objects created a bridge of understanding between modern people and the past and that anyone could be inspired by the leaves in this collection.

To encourage continued exploration, the Spencer Art Reference Library is pleased to be able to offer three research awards to support further in-person exploration of the works in the Karen Gould Collection. These travel awards are generously funded by Professor Emeritus Lewis Gould. Proposals are encouraged for all types of projects including those that use the leaves as part of research projects, artistic inspiration, creative programing, and development of creative curriculums. 

Example projects:  

  • Creation of a facsimile leaf to demonstrate how gold and silver leaf would have been applied
  • Use of one of the leaves as a model to create a font for a typography class 
  • Use of book of hours leaves as inspiration for an assignment in which students created their own book of hours

Proposals are accepted annually between August 1 and September 15. Each year three research awards will be funded for $500 each. Applicants should submit an application using this form

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art does not discriminate based on race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, non-disqualifying physical or mental disability, national origin, veteran status or any other basis covered by appropriate law. All award decisions are based on creativity of the proposal, merit, and qualifications. The research award is open to anyone (although current Nelson-Atkins staff members are not eligible to apply), and proposals are encouraged from people of color, persons with disabilities, women, and LGBTQ+ applicants. Recipients who receive funding may apply again 5 years after receiving an award.