How To Use an Archive

How To Use an Archive
Many museums have a research library or archive that is available for researchers. Each site will have its own set of rules, but here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when visiting an archive.

1. Make an appointment. Some research libraries are not open for walk-in visitors, so always call ahead.

2. Provide the librarian/archivist with as much detail as possible about your research project. Be sure to mention major sources you’ve already consulted so no one wastes their time showing you things you already know about.

3. Most archives do not allow you to peruse the stacks on your own. A volunteer or staff member will probably bring you the information you request.

4. Use pencils only! Do not bring a pen into an archive. A stray pencil mark can be easily removed. Ink cannot.

5. You may be asked to wear gloves when handling materials in an archive, particularly photographs.

6. There will be a fee for reproducing documents. Most archives have a sliding scale based on what you are going to do with the letter/photo/etc. For example, personal use or non-profit use will probably cost less than a for-profit venture. Some archives have a higher fee schedule for publication depending on circulation of the book or magazine. Copyright fees may also apply. Different formats (ie: print, low resolution scan, high resolution scan) will also have different costs.

7. Sometimes finding guides are available online. If so, write down exactly what you would like to see. You should also let the librarian/archivist know when you make your appointment so they can have it ready for you.

8. You may be asked to check large purses or bags for security reasons. Check the rules about laptops before you visit.

9. You will probably not be left alone in the archives, again for security reasons.

10. An archive will not let you borrow books or other materials to take home. Plan to do your research at the facility.

11. Plan extra time for research because you might find much more than you expected! The librarian/archivist might recommend additional locations for you to visit too. Or research nearby places yourself to combine into one research trip.

12. Eating and drinking are prohibited in an archive, so don’t take any with you.

13. Do not bring a digital camera with you.

14. Some research libraries require you to register to access special collections. Find out in advance, so you have enough time to complete the process. Sometimes that can be done online in advance.

15. In larger archives, such as the New York Public Library, materials may only be retrieved at certain intervals throughout the day. Be aware of the policies before you go.

16. The archive’s hours may differ from the host institution’s hours, so don’t assume they are the same. Call or check the website before you make the trip.

You Should Also Read:
Museum Career Skills -- Research and Writing
Archival Photo Albums
Archvial Supplies

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