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Planning to Visit an Archives

If you cannot view the materials you want via the repository’s website or through the above-mentioned methods, you will need to visit the archives in person. Whether you are traveling a long distance to visit the archives or visiting a local one, it is always a good idea to plan ahead for your visit. Here are some arrangements to consider:

Inform the archival staff of the date(s) that you intend to visit and the materials you would like to see. The staff can notify you of any special circumstances where either the facility or the materials are unavailable. Many archives store materials in off-site facilities, typically due to space constraints. If the materials you are requesting are stored off-site, they may take several hours or days to retrieve. Alerting the staff to your visit and the materials you want to see may enable you to access those materials upon your arrival instead of having to wait for them.

Confirm the repository’s scheduled visiting hours. Are there any special closings on the dates you intend to visit? If the hours are too limited to accommodate your schedule, can any alternative arrangements be made? Many repositories lack the staffing and funding required for having extensive hours, but some may offer options to meet researcher needs. If a repository has weekend and evening hours, professional archival staff may not be present at those times. This may limit the services available (such as photocopying, material retrieval, etc.), so ask if any services are limited during those hours. Additionally, ask whether there are any entrance fees to conduct research there.

Examine the available options for accommodations, food, and transportation. The archives may have special arrangements that researchers can utilize. Inquire about parking near the repository if you are bringing a vehicle with you.

Check to see whether there are any limits on the amount of materials you may request or specific request times. Some archives may allow you to have multiple boxes of materials at a time; others only a single box, book, or folder at a time. The amount of materials you may access could impact your work flow and time spent at the archives, so it is best to inquire ahead about material request limits. The times when material requests may be placed can also vary by repository.

Review guidelines for using materials at the archives. Look for these to be posted on the repository website, or ask a staff member. Typical repository guidelines will be explained in more detail in the next section, but guidelines between archives will vary.

Examine the reproduction policies of the archives. Regulations and fees for requesting photocopies, scans, digital photography, microfilming, and reproductions of photos and audio-visual materials vary among archives.

Ascertain whether the archives offers Internet access and accommodates personal laptop computers, and clarify the Internet access procedures. If Internet access is not available, determine the nearest location where researchers may access the web.

Ask whether any materials in the collection circulate or are loaned out. Are there other libraries nearby that offer guest library accounts? Sometimes a local library will have resources to aid your research that are available for loan or accessible when the archives is closed.

Inquire whether any opportunities for research grants or funding are offered by the archives. Extensive research projects may require spending a large amount of time at one or several archives. Some repositories (or related organizations or academic institutions) may offer financial assistance to researchers.

Schedule some additional time for the unexpected. Discoveries and new questions unearthed during research may lead you down different avenues than you had originally anticipated. Certain tasks—like deciphering hard-to-read handwritten documents or researching primary materials—may take more time. Also, consider the option of a return visit to the archives in case you need to verify information, check additional materials, or pursue something you had not thought of earlier.