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Requesting Materials Remotely

Once you have identified materials that will aid your research, the question then becomes how to access them. Policies regarding access vary among archives, but here are some questions to ask yourself, or the archival staff, to determine whether you can obtain access to materials without visiting the archives in person:

Are the materials you want to see available through interlibrary loan, meaning that the archives would send them to a library near you where you could view or borrow them? Some archives do lend out select materials (such as printed materials or microfilm), but rarely loan primary or original documents.

Are the materials you want available through libraries other than the repository at which you found them? Especially in the case of published and printed materials, other libraries might own the same materials and allow them to be loaned. The WorldCat database (mentioned in the “Finding and Evaluating Archives” section of this guide) is an excellent resource when looking for alternate lending libraries.

Will the archives provide scans or photocopies of the materials you wish to consult? What are the fees for those services? Are there limits on the amount of material that can be requested? Look for policies on photocopying and digital reproduction on the repository’s website, or contact a staff member and inquire.

Will the archives allow a research assistant to access materials on your behalf? Some archives may have recommended assistants or research services available to patrons unable to visit the archives in person. If not, hiring someone to help with your research can be a great option for remote access. Consider hiring a local graduate student or ask a friend living near the repository.

Do you have a simple question that can be answered by having the archival staff view the materials on your behalf? Archivists routinely answer reference questions for researchers, so if the information you need can be retrieved in a short amount of time, there is a good chance they can relay it to you without having you come in person.