You have used online catalogues and found a collection that you think will really help your research. The next thing to do is to email or telephone the archive in advance of your visit and have a good look at their website. Consider asking some of the following questions:
REMEMBER: most archives prefer visitors to make an appointment in advance!
Document handling guidelines:
Reading and interpreting
REMEMBER: archives research rewards patience and determination! You are a detective piecing together a puzzle.
Sometimes you might be told that you cannot access a particular document. Access restrictions are usually noted on the catalogue. They are another reason it is a good idea to contact the archives in advance and double check that the collections you want to view are available.
Possible reasons for access restrictions:
Ask the archivist for advice in overcoming restrictions – for example, if you wanted to access the medical register entry for someone you knew was dead, you could provide proof such as an obituary. If an item is too fragile to handle you could ask the archivist to make you a surrogate copy to look at instead.
The precise rules and regulations of an archive reading room vary from place to place, but most archives follow similar procedures. When you arrive at the archive for your appointment you should expect:
REMEMBER: some rules and procedures seem over fussy. They aren’t meant to make your life hard but are designed to protect the archives
If you have a short amount of time to look at a lot of material, it seems sensible to skim through for useful bits and then photocopy them for proper study later, doesn’t it? Don’t rely on this approach. Some things to note:
This volume cannot be photocopied, as to copy all the information in the bend of the page you would have to press down the volume, breaking the spine and damaging the item
Great – you have gone home with some interesting notes. But how do you use them in your study?
Citing your sources correctly is very important. Citations must allow your readers to be able to find the specific document that you used. Different archives may have specific requirements for citation – The National Archives, for example, has a whole webpage explaining their rules. You will also have citation rules suggested by your course leaders. As a rule of thumb, include the name of the archive and the catalogue reference number. For example, “De Montfort University Archives, D/050/03/005” or “De Montfort University Archives, D/033 Folder 2”.