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FLEET LIBRARY | Research Guides

Rhode Island School of Design

Object Research

A guide to researching art and design objects, utilizing museum and library resources

Already selected or been assigned an object?

  1. Find the object record on the museum’s website: start by selecting “Art & Design” from the main menu and navigating to “The Collection.” Search by artist, title, or accession number to locate your object.
  2. Explore the information available on the object page. Read more about what you can learn from these sections here.
  3. Locate the print and digital publications listed on the object page. 
  4. Search for additional publications based on what you’ve learned so far. 
    • First, think broadly. Brainstorm as many questions as you can think of. You might start with a simple “who, what, when, where, why” approach, or expand on those questions with this list of 20 questions to ask an object. You could start with writing down your own observations and the questions they make you think of, then by asking a friend to spend time looking at the object and sharing their questions with you. 
      Look for books, articles, databases, or online resources that might tell you more about these broad topics and begin to answer your questions. If your object has an identified maker, for example, find out if books have been written about that artist (look for monographs and Catalogues raisonné). If the maker of your object is unidentified, look for publications about the time and place they lived, or the materials and techniques they used. 
    • Second, seek out sources for specific information that might not be indexed on the museum’s website. For example, there may be exhibition catalogs that aren’t listed on the museum’s site; some of these can be found in RISD Library's online RISD Museum Exhibition Catalogs Index. This index was made by the library between 2007 and 2012 and cross-references exhibition catalogs for about 4,000 of the museum's 100,000 objects. For much of its history, the museum published periodicals that often included announcements and essays on new acquisitions. Bound copies of these can be found in the library. The museum has also published compilations of works unrelated to special exhibitions. Learn more about these in RISD Museum Specific Publications. Of course, there may also be information about specific objects in sources unaffiliated with the museum. Look for Catalogues raisonné, contemporary artists’ personal and gallery websites, journal articles, and catalogs from exhibitions at other museums (museums sometimes loan each other objects for exhibitions). 
  5. Learn more through conversation with a museum staff member. You can sign up for half-hour appointments with staff in many different roles.
    You’ll most likely want to talk to a curator if you’re doing art-historical research on an object; curators are the members of staff who research and write about the collection, choose the works and concepts you see in the galleries and special exhibitions, and choose new works to acquire for the collection. They specialize in particular areas of the collection, keep internal records on objects, and have deep knowledge in related subject areas.
    Depending on your interests, you might also benefit from conversation with other museum staff, like conservators, registrars, installers, or educators. 
  6. Still need help? Contact RISD Library's Research Help Desk and ask for a librarian's assistance. We'll be happy to help you with your search.


Looking for an object by a particular artist or in a particular medium, or one that relates to a topic or theme?

  1. Visit the galleries 
  2. Browse and search the museum’s collection online at
  3. Get advice from museum staff by signing up for virtual office hours. Every curatorial department offers weekly appointment slots; you can ask them to share objects in the collection related to the theme of your project, or to speak with you about a particular object of interest that you’ve already identified. Not sure what department to reach out to, or interested in having a conversation about museum practice generally? Email with a description of your interests and staff will work with you to set up an appointment with the most relevant staff member.