History of the Ingalls Library and Museum Archives



The Cleveland Museum of Art’s commitment to have a museum library staffed by a professional librarian coincided with the founding of the CMA in 1913. When the museum and library opened in 1916, the latter contained approximately 600 volumes, most of which were donated and reflected the collection, such as books on lace and armor. In the library’s early years, the most significant donation occurred in 1939, at the end of a decade of minimal purchasing because of the Great Depression. Upon the death of Julia Morgan Marlatt that year, the library was the beneficiary of the late William H. Marlatt’s collection of over 300 fine press printed books. Included was a nearly complete set of works printed by William Morris from 1891 to 1898 at the Kelmscott Press. The transition from a donations-based library collection to a strategically built collection was made possible by the bequest of more than $33 million to the museum by benefactor and trustee Leonard Hanna in 1956. The following year, with the collection steadily growing, the library moved to expanded quarters. 

Although the library had been established with the CMA staff as the intended primary users, in 1967 the library welcomed another user group with the establishment of the joint Cleveland Museum of Art/Case Western Reserve University art history and museum studies program. In 1979, the library added its 100,000th volume, far surpassing the goal in 1913 of having 10,000 volumes; it was clear that more space would be needed. In 1983, a new library was constructed and named in honor of former trustees Jane Taft Ingalls and Louise Harkness Ingalls. In 2008 the library transitioned to the Library of Congress Classification System, and in 2015 the library added its 500,000th volume. The Ingalls Library is one of the largest art museum libraries in the country, with a growth rate of approximately 8,000 books and 3,600 auction catalogues per year, in addition to more than 1,100 periodical subscriptions and 33 database subscriptions. To maximize space, more than five miles of compact shelving house the majority of the collection in the basement of the original 1916 building.

Library Lounge, 2018. Photo Credit: Howard Agriesti

The need to balance preservation and access was noted in the initial vision for the library, as expressed in the Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art in February 1916. Various measures are in place to protect the library collection. For example, the library has closed stacks and is non-circulating, though it lends replaceable materials through interlibrary loan and is a net lender, lending more than it borrows. Between 2006 and 2007, the library implemented a new security and inventory system using RFID (radio frequency identification) technology to secure and track the collection in time for an influx of users: since 2007, members of the public have been able to visit the library, page materials, and use the library’s electronic resources on site. The following year, a disaster preparedness policy and a collection development policy were introduced. Shortly after, two key spaces were completed: a book conservation lab for the repair and prevention of damage and, to minimize the handling of rare materials, a digitization lab with a high-end scanner.

Technology has been critical for facilitating access to the library collection. In 1979 the library joined the Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN), a national bibliographic database that combines the union catalogues of its members, allowing users to discover millions of titles through a single interface. The following year—through RLIN—the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and the Ingalls library developed SCIPIO, a computerized union catalogue of art auction catalogues from 1599 onwards. In 1989, the Ingalls Library became one of the first art museum libraries to automate its card catalogue, enhancing access through the provision of more entry points, a transition made possible by the implementation of the SirsiDynix integrated library system in 1989 with funding from the Reinberger Foundation.

Technology continues to be critical for access in the 21st century. In 2007, the library switched from SirsiDynix to ExLibris’ Aleph, in large part because of its accommodation of various types of media. The library’s first major digitization undertaking was in 2008, with the conversion of almost 500,000 slides from the now defunct slide library, funded partially by a grant from the United States Department of Education. With an active digitization program in place, worldwide access to library and archival materials has been facilitated by adding content to free online search platforms, namely the Getty Research Portal and the Internet Archive. In 2010, the library was the first North American ExLibris user to develop a mobile catalogue, the “Bookmobile.” This initiative led to the use of iPads to prompt users to ask a question through a web-based application about art in general or about the museum’s collection, to be answered by reference staff and posted online in an archive of collective curiosity. Several applications later, ASK is featured on the museum’s homepage, on a kiosk between two gallery spaces, and in the award-winning ArtLens Gallery. As the library expands its connections externally, it also welcomes new connections internally: in 2018, the library became a CMA exhibition space for the first time with the installation of Alex Jovanovich’s multimedia work as part of the FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art. Additionally in 2018, the library provided roving reference for the blockbuster exhibition, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, in the Kusama Lounge in partnership with the Public and Academic Engagement department.

In 2017, the museum released a strategic plan to be implemented over the following decade.  Making Art Matter: A Strategic Framework for Our Second Century prioritized collection growth and storage, digitization, social media, provenance research, and the implementation of a new integrated library system.


The Cleveland Museum of Art Archives department was established in 1989 as the museum approached its seventy-fifth anniversary with startup funding provided by The Gund Foundation. The need to consolidate and manage historical records had been building for years and the desire to publish a museum history for the anniversary provided the necessary final impetus.  The primary mission of the archives is to collect, preserve, and make available records that document the role of the Cleveland Museum of Art in the social and cultural history of the local community and the world of art.

CWRU students using rare books in the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room. Photo Credit: Howard Agriesti

Museum historical records document the care, security, ownership, and changing conditions of the collection. They also provide the knowledge of the institution’s history that is essential for internal communication and decision making. They protect the museum’s legal rights and its ownership of property, ensure compliance with government and business regulations, and provide the means for keeping its constituency informed of CMA activities, operations, and accomplishments. These collections include records of the director’s office and board of trustees, exhibition records, departmental records, editorial photography, audio-visual recordings of programs and events, and historic objects and ephemera.

The archives also acquires personal papers and manuscript collections that document the interaction of the museum with significant figures and organizations in the art world. These collections include those of affiliated organizations with a significant historical relationship with the museum; studios and arts businesses and industries that have made significant contributions to the local and broader artistic communities; manuscripts of artists, collectors, and scholars that relate to museum history; and papers of museum benefactors. All collections, unless restricted, are available to museum staff, scholarly researchers, and the public.

The museum archives also serves as the records management office of the museum. Records management activities include creating records retention and disposition schedules, managing nonpermanent records throughout their life cycle, and educating staff on records management policies and procedures to ensure that all legal and fiduciary responsibilities are met.

As a result of the museum’s comprehensive building project, the archives office, workroom, and reading room were incorporated into the plan of the library. Archives permanent collection storage was substantially increased and is located on the mezzanine level of the 1916 building, and on levels 2 and 2R of the Ingalls Library. The archives contracts with an outside storage provider to house materials requiring specialized storage and non-permanent records.