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History Research Guide

Which archive has what I want?

  • You CANNOT ILL archival material or special collections -- you MUST visit them in person
  • "Archive" doesn't just mean "old books" -- an archive is a specific technical term that usually means a collection of material ABOUT a specific place or topic. Usually the bulk of the material is non-book-like (i.e. letters, photographs, diaries, scrap books, etc). Often archives contain the records of institutions (meeting minutes, records of events or employees, etc). 

So I'm committed to going, what?

FIRST: Talk to a Carleton Reference Librarian before traveling to an archive -- there may be easier ways to get access to the material you're interested in!

SECOND: Talk to a local librarian, curator, or archivist at the library or archive WEEKS OR MONTHS BEFORE you want to visit. You will want to ask questions like:

  1. Are the collections I'm interested in currently accessible ("open")? 
    • Protip: Sometimes collections will not be open if they were recently acquired by the Archive. Some collections or portions of collections are closed either for a specific length of years or indefinitely because of sensitive content, personal information, or the fragile state of an item.
  2. Do I need to request items ahead of time? (sometimes you need to give them 24-48+ hours to bring the material to the reading room, if it's stored off campus)
  3. Are there complete finding aids for these collections?
  4. What forms of identification will I need to bring?
  5. What are your hours? Will you be open while I'm visiting?
  6. Do I need to bring any letters of introduction? (yes, this is a thing!)
  7. Do you allow laptops / iPads / paper notebooks / pens / pencils in the reading room?
  8. Do you allow photography in the reading room? Do I need to pay for this?
  9. Do you digitize materials for patrons on demand? How much does this cost? 
    • Protip: Sometimes you can ask them to digitize small amounts of material (i.e. 1 or 2 pages), but you will probably need to pay for this service. Ask your major department if they have any funds for services like this.
  10. Have any parts of the collections I'm interested in already been digitized? Are these scans available online?
  11. Is there a limit to the number of boxes/items I can request in a day?