Navigating the Materials World: A Guide to Understanding Materials Behavior

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These cookies are used to make advertising Facebook messages more relevant to you and your interests. Are there limits on the amount of material that can be requested? Will the archives allow a research assistant to access materials on your behalf? Some archives may have recommended assistants or research services available to patrons unable to visit the archives in person.

If not, hiring someone to help with your research can be a great option for remote access. Consider hiring a local graduate student or ask a friend living near the repository. Do you have a simple question that can be answered by having the archival staff view the materials on your behalf? Archivists routinely answer reference questions for researchers, so if the information you need can be retrieved in a short amount of time, there is a good chance they can relay it to you without having you come in person. Whether you are traveling a long distance to visit the archives or visiting a local one, it is always a good idea to plan ahead for your visit.

Here are some arrangements to consider:. Inform the archival staff of the date s that you intend to visit and the materials you would like to see.

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The staff can notify you of any special circumstances where either the facility or the materials are unavailable. Many archives store materials in off-site facilities, typically due to space constraints. If the materials you are requesting are stored off-site, they may take several hours or days to retrieve. Alerting the staff to your visit and the materials you want to see may enable you to access those materials upon your arrival instead of having to wait for them. Are there any special closings on the dates you intend to visit? If the hours are too limited to accommodate your schedule, can any alternative arrangements be made?

Many repositories lack the staffing and funding required for having extensive hours, but some may offer options to meet researcher needs. If a repository has weekend and evening hours, professional archival staff may not be present at those times. This may limit the services available such as photocopying, material retrieval, etc.

Additionally, ask whether there are any entrance fees to conduct research there. Examine the available options for accommodations, food, and transportation. The archives may have special arrangements that researchers can utilize. Inquire about parking near the repository if you are bringing a vehicle with you.

Check to see whether there are any limits on the amount of materials you may request or specific request times. Some archives may allow you to have multiple boxes of materials at a time; others only a single box, book, or folder at a time.

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The amount of materials you may access could impact your work flow and time spent at the archives, so it is best to inquire ahead about material request limits. The times when material requests may be placed can also vary by repository. Review guidelines for using materials at the archives. Look for these to be posted on the repository website, or ask a staff member. Typical repository guidelines will be explained in more detail in the next section, but guidelines between archives will vary.

Examine the reproduction policies of the archives. Regulations and fees for requesting photocopies, scans, digital photography, microfilming, and reproductions of photos and audio-visual materials vary among archives. Ascertain whether the archives offers Internet access and accommodates personal laptop computers , and clarify the Internet access procedures.

If Internet access is not available, determine the nearest location where researchers may access the web. Ask whether any materials in the collection circulate or are loaned out. Are there other libraries nearby that offer guest library accounts? Sometimes a local library will have resources to aid your research that are available for loan or accessible when the archives is closed. Inquire whether any opportunities for research grants or funding are offered by the archives.

Extensive research projects may require spending a large amount of time at one or several archives. Some repositories or related organizations or academic institutions may offer financial assistance to researchers.


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Schedule some additional time for the unexpected. Discoveries and new questions unearthed during research may lead you down different avenues than you had originally anticipated. Certain tasks—like deciphering hard-to-read handwritten documents or researching primary materials—may take more time. Also, consider the option of a return visit to the archives in case you need to verify information, check additional materials, or pursue something you had not thought of earlier.

Researchers may be surprised initially at how different it is to use materials in an archives versus a public or academic library. Archives have access guidelines designed both to help preserve materials and protect them from theft, thus ensuring they will remain available for future researchers. This section will list some typical usage guidelines found at archives and the reasons behind them. Guidelines will differ between repositories, so always check what guidelines an archives has in place. Registry and personal identification: Many archives ask researchers to fill out an application, registry card, online form, or acquire a researcher card before they begin using materials.

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The forms typically include name, address, institutional affiliation, materials to be used, and a description of the research project. Photo IDs may also be requested. Such registration practices familiarize the archival staff with the researchers to better serve their research needs and interests, and may also be used to aid a criminal investigation in the event that theft is discovered.

Some archives also require a note of recommendation or special permissions before admitting researchers. Removal of coats and bags: Another method used to discourage theft is requiring that researchers remove bulky outer clothing and store purses, bags, binders, and laptop cases outside of the research area. Many archives have lockers or other monitored areas that researchers can use to store personal possessions.

If the only storage option is a nonsecure environment, such as a public coat rack, be sure to remove valuable items like keys and wallets from bags and pockets. No food, drink, or gum: This guideline is designed to help preserve the collections. Spills can irreparably damage documents or require costly repairs by a conservator. The presence of food may also attract insects or rodents that infest archival materials. Use of pencil only: This is a preservation practice in case accidental marks are made on archival materials; pencil can be erased while pen marks cannot.

Some forms have very practical uses, like verifying that the correct materials are retrieved, calculating fees, or keeping track of usage for statistical and preservation purposes. By recording exactly which materials were used and by whom, forms can also serve as a theft deterrent. Finally, forms can be useful in notifying the researcher of any legal requirements to take into consideration for how materials are used. Example: Photocopies of unpublished materials provided for a researcher may require additional permissions before they are published.

Gloves: In most cases clean hands free of lotions or perfumes are sufficient for handling materials. Gloves may be necessary for handling objects or photographs in order to protect the materials from the oils and other residues left by hands. The archives should provide gloves if they are required. Laptops, cell phones, cameras, recorders, and personal scanners: Many archives allow the use of cameras, laptops, and other personal digital devices, but restrictions may exist. Materials may require permissions before they are reproduced, and the lights used by cameras and scanners can cause text and images on documents to fade if they are overexposed.

Hence, guidelines in these areas are for security and preservation purposes, as well as for ensuring that all researchers can work in a relatively quiet, distraction-free environment. Archival staff may also ask to inspect any devices researchers bring with them before entering or leaving the research area.

Careful handling and maintaining order: To ensure that materials are maintained for future use, all archives ask researchers to handle materials carefully. While older materials are generally thought to be more fragile, even new materials need to be handled with care so they remain available to the next generation of researchers. Archives may provide specialized tools like book pillows to help preserve materials during use.