Archives and special collections are true treasures in historical research. There’s nothing like browsing the shelves, delicately handling original records and accessing information from another time.
Many organizations limit what visitors can bring into their special collection areas. Often they provide lockers and require you secure most of your belongings. This keeps items from being damaged or stolen from the collections.
How does one search in a repository that doesn’t allow backpacks, computers, or even pens? It’s quite easy. You may not get to do deep Internet research, but you will be able to get the records and information you need.
Here are the five tools to bring when you access special collections:
It seems really basic, but bring a pencil when you visit a repository for the first time. Many places do not allow pens, and some places don’t offer pencils to visitors.
Another obvious choice that isn’t so obvious in this technical age is paper. Some libraries don’t allow laptops or computers into their special collections. You may have to write down what you’re looking for or any notes. Very few libraries offer full sheets of notepaper so if you don’t have a notebook handy, at least pull a couple pages out of your printer just in case.
3. Phone with camera
If the collection you are visiting allows photographs to be taken of their items, then a phone camera is a very handy tool. You can use it to capture images of records, or title pages of books you’re viewing.
4. Small change
Some of the older repositories on limited budgets may still offer copy machines as an option for capturing records. The only thing standing between you and a record of your great-great-great grandmother’s baptism may be a quarter for the copy machine. Don’t let that happen! Coins are also good to have if there are old-school parking meters at the location.
5. Flash drive
If you have a limited amount of time to gather an unlimited amount of records from a repository, a flash drive is essential. Many records are stored on microfilm and microfiche. Unless you’re utilizing a hand-powered machine, you’ll likely be able to capture images of the records you’re viewing. A flash drive makes it very easy to capture a bunch of images in a short time. Don’t forget your flash drive when you’re done. I keep mine on my keychain.
These tools may seem basic, but take it from me. I’ve been to many, many repositories with all different kinds of regulations. Having these five things on you will ensure that you make the most of your visit no matter what the rules are.
To avoid surprises, call ahead and ask about requirements for visiting a particular repository. Happy searching!
Amy Lenertz, MLIS is the founder of Raincross Information Services.