Kislak Center reader services

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Main content

Reading Room 

Special Procedures for Fall 2020 Re-Opening

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Kislak Center staff are mostly working remotely during the Fall 2020 semester. We will continue to offer expanded digital access to our collections, such as through increased reprographic support.

Our focus is on the teaching, learning, and scholarly research needs of the University of Pennsylvania community. To support these needs, we anticipate re-opening the Kislak Center in a limited manner on October 12, 2020, but may move the date later depending on the coronavirus situation. Though re-opened, our primary concern will be the health and safety of staff and researchers. Thus, we’ve developed new processes on access to special collections material detailed below. We may amend these processes as the coronavirus situation evolves and adjust access based on staffing levels.

  • Access to the Kislak Center will be by appointment only for University of Pennsylvania faculty, graduate students, and staff with active PennCards.
  • All requests to consult special collections materials in-person must be submitted at least one week in advance via the Aeon system.
  • The Reading Room will provide in-person, pre-scheduled access to the collection between 1pm and 4pm during weekdays for up to two concurrent researchers.
  • A staff member will contact you to discuss your request and offer digitization options. If an on-site appointment is needed, we will schedule it with you. Do not travel to the library if you have not received a confirmation email from us.

In addition to these changes, we've implemented a number of health and safety protocols for any on-site individuals:

  • Prior to arrival, monitor and notify us if you have any COVID-19 related symptoms.
  • Upon arrival, you will need to complete the COVID-19 self-examination certification at the Van Pelt Library entry door guard station.
  • If you show COVID-19 symptoms, you will be asked to reschedule your research appointment
  • While on-site, you must wear a CDC-recommended mask (2-ply cloth or surgical-style mask) at all times with no exceptions, follow social distancing rules (at least 6 feet between individuals), and wash your hands before using materials and after breaks.
  • Bring your own paper and sharpened pencil or mechanical pencil if needed.

Additionally, we've implemented the following health and safety protocols at the Kislak Center:

  • Staff are required to wear masks at all times in shared spaces.
  • Staff are required to self-report COVID-19-related symptoms before entering the library building. Staff reporting COVID-19-related symptoms will not enter the building.
  • All materials will be quarantined for 72 hours before and after use.
  • Lockers, tables, and chairs will be disinfected before and after each use.
  • Other high-touch elements such as door handles will be disinfected regularly.
  • Hand sanitizer is available throughout the building.

For more information, please contact:

Reading Room Access

All readers are welcome to consult special collections materials in the Kislak Center's Charles K. MacDonald Reading Room during our regular hours.

Appointments are not required, but researchers with special interests or those wishing to consult large collections may wish to contact us in advance so that we may provide assistance. Some collections are stored offsite and are not accessible except by prior arrangement. Non-PennCard holders must make arrangements with staff ahead of time if they wish to visit the Kislak Center reading room during examination periods or if they plan on arriving after 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday. Note that the Kislak Center reading room is only available for consulting special collections materials, not for general study.

To contact reading room staff at the Kislak Center and for general questions, please email

Registration & Policies

Upon entering the reading room reception area, please show the receptionist a current, valid photographic ID. Your ID card will be held at the reception desk during your visit. If you are visiting for the first time, you must register online to create a Special Collections Research Account before requesting any materials. To save time at the reading room, patrons may choose to register online before visiting.

All personal belongings must be stored in designated areas.

Laptop computers and small cameras may be brought into the reading room. Pencils and paper for notes will be available. All other items, such as pens, highlighters, markers, tripods, and flatbed or hand scanners are not allowed. Flash photography is prohibited. All items being brought into the reading room will be inspected by the receptionist before you enter and again as you leave.

Absolutely no food or drink is allowed in the reading room or adjacent study rooms.

All cell phones should be left on silent mode. We ask that patrons refrain from talking on cell phones while they are in the reading room.

Requesting and Reserving Materials

Collection materials in the Kislak Center and other special collections in the libraries should be requested in advance whenever possible using a Special Collections Research Account. Once you have created and logged into your account, you may request materials directly from our catalog and finding aids. Staff on site will be available to answer any questions and provide assistance. Staff will endeavor to deliver onsite materials promptly, but may limit the number of items you can request or consult at one time. Special collections materials may only be used in the reading room.

Some of our collections are stored offsite and retrieval may take at least one business day. Consult one of our staff members or contact us via email to determine if the materials you need are stored offsite.

For quicker access on return visits, you may place materials on hold. Materials that have not been consulted for over two weeks will be reshelved.

Handling Materials

We ask that researchers arrive in the reading room with clean hands; restrooms are located nearby. Staff will provide instruction on the proper handling of collection materials. For book requests, book cradles and weights will be provided. For manuscript requests, please retain the order of the materials contained in the box or folder and keep each manuscript flat on the reading room table as you work with it. Readers may only consult one box or one folder of manuscript materials at a time. Any questions about the condition or handling of specific items should be directed to staff.

Copyright Restrictions

Researchers must make a written request to the Penn Libraries for permission to publish any materials from its special collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure any necessary additional permission from the appropriate copyright holder to quote, publish, or reproduce items from Penn's special collections, and to acknowledge in print that the materials are used or published with permission of the University of Pennsylvania. The University of Pennsylvania assumes no responsibility for copyright violations or for any other legal issues resulting from the use or publication of special collections materials.

Requests to publish the unpublished writings of Theodore Dreiser or unattributed photographs in any manuscript collection should be directed to David McKnight, Director, Rare Book and Manuscript Library,

Requests to publish material from the Edgar F. Smith Image Collection, the Furness Image Collection, or from printed books should be directed to Lynne Farrington, Senior Curator, Special Collections,