(The information on this page applies to both the James Ford Bell Library and the Wilson Rare collection (part of the unit Special Collections and Rare Books), whose materials are paged by Bell staff and used in the Bell reading room. Questions about the Wilson Rare collection may be directed to curator Timothy Johnson, johns976@umn.edu or 612/624-3552.)


Access to the James Ford Bell Library and Wilson Rare collections is open to all. These are non-circulating materials, which must be used only in the Bell Library reading room. Permission to examine materials normally will be granted to any qualified researcher upon completion of the registration form and agreement to abide by the rules governing use.

More than 90% of the Bell Collection can be found in MNCAT Discovery, the University of Minnesota's online catalog. To search the Bell Library specifically, it is best to do an Advanced Search. Under "Search Scope," select James Ford Bell Library to limit your search to mostly our collection.

Researcher Registration Form

You will be asked to register as a researcher each year you want to use the collection. To obtain a registration form prior to your visit, contact us at jfbell@umn.edu or 612/624-1528.

NOTE: You will be asked to produce current and valid photo identification (U of M ID, driver's license, passport, etc.); anyone failing to produce a legitimate photo ID will be denied access to collection materials.


Instructions & Conditions for Use

The following instructions are designed to enhance the security of the collection and to ensure its proper care. Please review them carefully before using the collections, and do not hesitate to ask the staff for assistance. Bell Library staff reserve the right to limit or prohibit access to any materials if potential for misuse is evident.

  • Complete and sign the Researcher Registration Form the first time you visit, and sign the daily register each time you visit. Be prepared to show a valid photo identification (U of M ID, driver's license, passport, or other photo ID issued by a state or federal government agency) to a staff member when you submit the registration form.
  • Cubbies are available for coats, backpacks, briefcases, purses, and other bags; these items are not permitted in the reading room.
  • No food or beverages of any kind are allowed in the reading room.
  • Use only pencils in the reading room; no ink of any kind is allowed. Materials must not be written on, leaned upon, traced, fastened together, folded or otherwise altered or mutilated in any way. Retain the order of file folders or boxes of manuscript and art collections. We welcome reports of items that appear to have been misfiled or dated incorrectly. If you encounter problems with the physical condition or arrangement of materials, bring them to the attention of a staff person.
  • Personal computers may be used unless their operation distracts other researchers. Note that the reading room contains only two plugs, one on each side of the room. The reading room does have wireless access.
  • Please be respectful of other researchers and limit your conversation to that necessary to accomplish your research.
  • Copying and other forms of duplication are possible, depending on the condition of the particular item. Visit our Services page for more information.
  • You may request that an item be placed on hold if you intend to use it again within the week. Forms are available for this purpose in the reading room; please complete one form for each item to be placed on hold, and inform the staff of when you expect to return and the length of time you would like the item held. As a general rule, we will not hold items longer than 2 weeks, but special arrangements can be made.
  • Return books and other materials directly to a staff member when you have finished using them. Please do not leave them unattended on a table or shelf. Removal of any item from the Library (suite 472 Wilson Library) without the consent of the Bell curator or assistant curator will be considered theft and punishable to the full extent of the law.