Kaufmann was the son of Herbert Carl and Hazel Glaze Kaufmann of Tarrant. He grew up there, spending his days at the Tarrant City Public Library and the Imperial Theater. He earned his bachelor of arts at Birmingham-Southern College and a master of science in library science at Columbia University.
Kaufmann worked as a librarian at the Avery Art & Architecture Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut and at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in New York City. In 1966 he was sent to Florence, Italy on a Ford Foundation fellowship to assist in rescuing artworks damaged by the flooding of the Arno River. In 1985 he began working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York's Central Park, with responsibilities to the Costume Institute, the Watson Library, and the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Library.
Kaufmann was a charter member of the Victorian Society in American and was also active in the Art Libraries Society of North America. He lectured frequently and edited a number of publications in his field.
Kaufmann died from cancer while a hospice patient at Calvary Hospital in New York. He bequeathed his personal library of 2,000 volumes on art history, Victoriana, and food culture and history, to the Birmingham Museum of Art's Clarence B. Hanson, Jr Library.
- "Kaufmann, Robert C." obituary (November 11, 2009) Birmingham News