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Getting Started with Archives: Planning a Research Visit

This guide serves as an introduction to locating and evaluating collection description, and beginning archival research at NYPL

Planning a research visit

Conducting research in archival collections is somewhat different that using libraries in general. Each repository has specific rules, and will make sure a researcher has a chance to review them before coming to a Reading Room. There are a few typical things to note (or ask about) to prepare for a successful visit.

  • Contact the repository in advance. Reading Rooms might require an appointment. Always contact before scheduling any travel, in case there are any known situations which might prevent or impede access. Allow a few days for a response.
  • Learn what is allowed in a Reading Room. Usually researchers need to leave coats, scarves, bags, food, umbrellas, and all other items unnecessary to research at a different location.
  • Prepare for cool temperatures. Collection spaces are kept at a specific temperature and humidity for the long term care of materials. Since coats are not permitted, it is recommended that researchers bring a warm layer if they expect to stay a long time.
  • Make a note-taking strategy. Figuring out how to document the sources used is essential. Researchers often need to re-request and re-examine items as projects take shape. Ink pens are not allowed for use with archival materials, and in some cases outside notebooks or reference materials are not allowed. Non-flash reference photographs can be taken with a handheld device in most cases, however some collections have restrictions on copying. Each Reading Room is differently appointed, so asking about outlets for electronic devices will be helpful in knowing what to bring.
  • Prioritize research requests. It is recommended to consolidate box, reel, volume, electronic record numbers, and A/V ids in advance. Time flies when immersed in archival collections, and often Reading Room logistics mean that only a small amount of material can be readied at a time for consultation. Having a prioritized list (and being prepared to change it as the research takes place) makes for a more efficient visit.

If questions arise in planning, reading room staff members are available to help formulate a strategy. Simply ask!