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Using Special Collections: Visiting Archives

Starting Your Research

Before You Visit 

Archives and Special Collections tend to have varying policies and procedures governing the use of their materials. Be sure to look up the institution online first to see what you can bring with you. Ask the staff:

  • Do you need to make an appointment to see collections, or do they accept walk-ins?
  • Can you request materials be pulled in advance of your visit? 
  • What are the hours/days the archives is open for research?
  • Can you use a laptop or take photos?
  • Is there a scanner available for use, or a photocopy machine?

Taking Notes

Archival research is time consuming. It is also most successful when you have a clear plan for how to take notes during the visit. Notes should include:

  • Name of institution
  • Title of fonds / manuscript collection / record group
  • Title of series and/or file 
  • Date(s) of material
  • Reference codes
  • Exact title or description of item
  • Annotation of the information that interests you
  • Use quotation marks to record verbatim transcriptions of factual data and other excerpts that you intend to use as a cited primary source
  • Record complete citations for all material used during the research visit, even the material you do not intend to use

There's an App for That!

Take notes

Create timelines

Mapping projects

Create digital exhibits & websites

Digital storytelling