Using the Chapin Library

Reading Room and Hours

The Special Collections reading room in Sawyer Library, serving both the Chapin Library and the College Archives, is open Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., closed nights and weekends except for special functions as announced. The reading room and all other rooms associated with the Chapin Library are handicapped-accessible.

Readers are encouraged to make an appointment by e-mail or telephone. Advance notice also allows our staff time to prepare for a visit and to better advise readers on the availability and use of materials. We ask especially that persons wishing to use the Chapin Library who are not students, faculty, or staff at Williams College please contact us before visiting.

Coats, umbrellas, bags, backpacks, etc. must be placed in the visitor coat closet and/or a locker immediately outside the reading room. Staff at the reading room service desk will provide a locker key. Please refrain from talking on cell phones or using portable music devices in the reading room. Food and drink are not allowed in Special Collections areas, and smoking is prohibited in all College buildings.  Return to top

Finding Books and Manuscripts

The Chapin Library’s printed holdings are recorded in the online catalog of the Williams Libraries. Chapin Library records are so indicated by name on screen. All Chapin Library materials are non-circulating. For the most part, manuscripts held by the Chapin are not yet recorded in the online catalog, but finding aids are being prepared for posting elsewhere on the Chapin Library website.

Please note that other rare books and manuscripts are held at Williams in College Archives and Special Collections. These include materials marked in the catalog with “L & T”, “Rare Book”, and “ZZ” indicators, the Shaker Collection, and the Paul Whiteman Collection. The library of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown also includes rare books.   Return to top

Asking for Materials

If you know what you would like to see in the Chapin Library, simply ask one of the staff and, if it is available, the item will be brought to you at a reader’s desk. For security, all of our books, manuscripts, and other materials, except for reference books in the reading room, are in closed stacks. If you cannot find the material you want among our listings in the online catalog, or are unsure what you want, ask and we will help. It is usually a good idea to consult secondary works, either in the Chapin Library or in the general library collections, before turning to rare books, manuscripts, and other primary research materials. Please note that although staff are happy to assist readers and to answer reference questions, they cannot perform extensive research on readers’ behalf.   Return to top

Handling Materials

All materials from Chapin Library collections must be used in our reading room and returned to the staff member on duty. Upon arrival, readers are required to complete a registration form, upon which all materials used will be recorded. Depending on the type of material, size, or format, the number of items provided at one time may be limited. If manuscripts or other items in folders are used, the original order must be maintained.

All library materials must be handled carefully, with consideration for their age and value. Readers’ hands should be clean and dry. (A small hand washing sink is located near the lockers.) Materials may not be written on, traced, leaned on, or handled in any other way likely to cause damage. When taking notes, readers should use pencil or a portable computer; pens and markers are prohibited. Staff are happy to instruct readers in proper handling techniques, to provide book cushions and page weights, and (as appropriate) to open books with uncut leaves.   Return to top

Photocopying and Photography

Scanning and photographic requests are handled by staff on a case by case basis. Some materials in the Chapin Library are too fragile or too large to permit scanning. Others may permit only a few pages to be scanned, if wear and damage are to be avoided. Complete books will not be copied unless of very modest length (subject to condition). Otherwise, we try to accommodate reasonable requests. We can also arrange to make high-quality photographs, likewise depending upon condition and size. For further information on these services, please see our page of reproduction rates and policies.   Return to top

Use of Digital Imaging Equipment

The Chapin Library and its partner, the Williams College Archives & Special Collections, allow limited photography and scanning by readers. To avoid disrupting others in the reading room and to ensure preservation of the collections, readers should take careful note of the following policies:

Staff reserve the right to deny requests or to revoke the photographic/scanning privileges of readers.   Return to top


As needed, requests for permission to reproduce text or images from Chapin Library holdings should be sent to the Library in writing. In most cases, Williams College (as the parent institution of the Chapin Library) does not hold copyright in the work in question, but maintains its rights as property owners; in certain cases, the Chapin Library does administer copyright in its collections. Researchers assume full responsibility for obtaining any necessary publication rights and copyright clearances. In granting permission to publish, the Chapin Library does not surrender its own right thereafter to publish the same material or to grant permission to others to publish it, nor does Williams College assume any responsibility for infringement of copyright.   Return to top

Class and Tour Groups

Faculty at Williams College, and teachers from other schools, are welcome to bring class groups to the Chapin Library by appointment. The librarians are happy to speak to classes, to present materials related to courses of study, and to advise on methods of research and the use of special collections. Group presentations introduce students to primary sources on which to base term papers, to the history of subjects and disciplines, and to the experience of working with special collections should a student pursue a life of scholarship. In addition, they provide interesting historical, social, and aesthetic contrasts between modern editions and books and manuscripts as they appeared in times past.

Sessions may be as long or short as the teacher wishes, and may be scheduled outside of our regular hours if necessary. We are happy to work with teachers to tailor presentations according to the needs and size of the class and the logistics of handling rare books and manuscripts in such a setting. The Special Collections Instruction Room, located near the reading room, has a nominal capacity of 24 persons, plus teacher(s) and staff; its tables can be configured to suit larger or smaller groups. Also available is a Meeting Room, which holds between 6 and 8 persons (a small class or seminar). Instruction may occur also in the galleries, in conjunction with exhibitions and displays.  Return to top


Under the terms of the Library’s founding deed of gift and as a matter of general policy, so that they may be readily available to the Williams community and to visiting scholars, Chapin Library materials do not circulate, nor can they be supplied on interlibrary loan except (condition permitting) as photocopies or scans. Similar constraints apply to items requested for exhibition, except to the Williams College Museum of Art and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, both close at hand in Williamstown.   Return to top

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This page was last updated on 6 June 2017