Many of the materials in our collections are fragile and/or one-of-a-kind. Therefore, we ask that patrons agree to the following policies prior to conducting research in the library.


All patrons making their first visit to the library must fill out a registration form (pdf).  The form serves as a consent that patrons will adhere to the policies of the library while conducting their research.  Patrons will also be asked to show valid government issued photo identification at that time, such as a driver’s license or passport.

There is an $8.00 daily admission fee for non-Rhode Island residents ($5 for students and seniors over 65). Rhode Island residents, students attending a college or university in Rhode Island, RIHS members and children under the age of 12 are admitted free of charge.  Children under the age of 16 are required to be accompanied by an adult.  RIHS members must show a valid membership card for free admission.  Information on becoming a member can be found here.  All patrons must fill out a new registration form each year.

Signing in/out

Patrons must sign in at the visitor’s log next to the front desk.  Patrons should also check the appropriate box next to their field of research and whether or not they are a member.  At the end of the day, patrons must sign out at the log.  All items brought into the Reading Room will be inspected at the end of the day by library staff.

Patron belongings

Coats, bags and closed cases of any kind are not allowed into the Reading Room. Bags and closed cases include: purses, handbags, manila envelopes, backpacks, computer cases and expandable folders.  Outside books, original manuscripts and photographs are also not permitted. Free lockers with keys are available in the lobby for securing personal items; a coat rack is also available. The library is not responsible for loss of personal items of patrons.


Patrons may use pencils only for note taking in order to preserve our collection. Pencils are available for borrowing and sharpeners are also provided.  Mechanical pencils are acceptable, however colored pencils are not.

Laptop computers

Laptop computers may be used by patrons in the Reading Room.  Cases must be secured in lockers located in the lobby, which are available at no charge. Electrical outlets are available at most of the research tables.

Cell Phones and iPods

Cell phones are to be set on vibrate or turned off and conversations are limited to the lobby so as to not disturb other patrons.  Patrons may use iPods or other headphone electronics as long as the volume of sound coming from the headphones is not detectable or disturbing.  Ear plugs are also available at the reference desk for patrons needing complete silence.


All materials must be reviewed by library staff before they may be reproduced.  Materials may be reproduced only at the discretion of library staff.  Some materials may not be photocopied under any conditions (click here for photocopying policies).  Only printed materials meeting all criteria of the photocopying policy may be copied by patrons.  Graphics and manuscript materials are photocopied by library staff only.  The photocopies section of the website contains further information on patron photocopying and information on the Library’s camera policy.

Cameras are allowed without flash, scanners and other electronic reproduction equipment are not allowed into the library.  Digital and photographic reproduction is available through the Rights and Reproductions division.

Patrons are responsible for observing all copyright laws.

Circulation of materials

The Rhode Island Historical Society library is not a lending institution.  Reproductions of materials may be available depending upon the size and condition of the item (see above for information on reproductions).

Collection Use

Because of the rarity and fragility of many of our materials, we ask that patrons using the collections do so with the utmost care.  Patrons are asked to maintain the original order of folders, documents, photographs, etc. when using items for research.  Patrons are also asked not to exert pressure on materials by stacking, leaning, pressing down or writing on top of items.  Tracing of any kind is strictly prohibited.  Library staff will monitor the use of all materials in the Reading Room and will assist patrons in using the collections as necessary.

Climate control

Temperature and humidity levels in the library are controlled year-round for the preservation of the collections.  The normal temperature in the Reading Room is between 65 – 69°F. Patrons are advised to dress warmly or bring a sweater or sweatshirt even during summer months. Jackets and coats may not be worn in the Reading Room; suit jackets are acceptable.

Food and Drink

Food and drink are not permitted in the Reading Room. Food and drink are allowed in the lobby only; this includes gum, cough drops and candy. Disposable drinking cups are available in the rest rooms, which are also located in the lobby. There are no vending machines in the library, but several restaurants and cafes are within walking distance.