Visiting an Archives

Once you have arrived at an archives, here are a few things to consider to maximize your time and efficiency, and to help the research process go smoothly:

Prioritize your requests: What are the materials that would be most helpful for you to view? Make plans to see those first and ask the archival staff for them promptly to ensure you have time to see them. This is especially important for materials you would not be able to get anywhere else. Do you have any questions that need to be addressed before other work can be done? Tackle those first.

Balance your work flow with the policies of the archives: After familiarizing yourself with the policies of an archives, you can better adapt your work flow to those criteria when conducting your research.
Examples: Will certain materials take time to retrieve? Do photocopy requests need to be submitted twenty-four hours in advance? Planning to have some materials to view while you wait for others to arrive, and submitting your photocopy request the day before your departure, helps you meet your research goals and honors the policies outlined by the archives.

Ask for assistance: The archival staff is there to help you. If you have questions, ask them. You are your first and best advocate for accomplishing your goals.

Bring appropriate supplies: Have pencils, notepaper, and a pencil sharpener handy. Some archives may provide these things for you, but do not assume they will be provided. Carry a magnifying glass in case you run across difficult handwriting or need to examine some small detail. And since books and papers are better preserved in cooler temperatures, archives can sometimes be on the chilly side. Have a lightweight sweater on hand in case you get cold.

Take thorough citations: While you are working, make sure to take full citations for the materials you are viewing, including any unique identification assigned to the materials by the archives such as the call number, collection title, etc. If you need to go back and reference something in those materials again, or if another researcher is later trying to track your sources from a published work, this will help the archival staff locate the materials.

Point out corrections: Mistakes or omissions sometimes occur in finding aids, websites, and descriptions of materials. If you, the researcher, notice some of these errors or are an expert in a particular area and can fill in some information gaps, point those out to the archival staff. If possible, cite another authoritative source to support your corrections.

Connect with other researchers: Archives are unique places where specialists gather from all over the world. Introduce yourself to other researchers and see if anyone else shares your topic of interest. You never know what future benefits can come from a smile and a greeting. Also, inform the archival staff if you are looking to locate other researchers working on your research topic. They may be able to connect you with people who share your interests. However, note that archivists keep researcher names, projects, and material request records confidential and will not divulge such information without consent.