A Guide to Archives and How To Use Them for Research
- Environmental engineers
- Property owners
What Is the Difference Between a Library and an Archive?
- Historical artifacts
- Moving images (videos, zoetrope)
- Rare/unique/special objects
- Sound bytes
Different Types of Archives
College and University Archives
- Administration: Administrative personnel within a university have ready access to permanent records, which includes documents in whatever form from whatever time, materials that define and enhance the image of the institution, and materials and memorabilia that support significant interactions with past graduates.
- Alumni: When the alumni access the archives it allows them to maintain old ties and build new ones with their alma mater. It also may refresh their knowledge about the history of the institution, which is often perceived by the alumni as a significant factor in their development.
- Faculty: Faculty of the college may use the university’s archives for research in collections that provide unique materials. The archives can document a wide variety of history, chronicle the contributions of individuals, and record processes as reflected in the records of the institution.
- Researchers: Researchers in the community can use the institution’s archives, hopefully benefiting from the richness and reliability of the archive collection.
- Students: When students utilize the archive, they can connect with the institution and learn about its history. They can also access the archival material to help support their curriculum and introduce them to different research techniques that help enhance their educational experience.
- Helps prevent data loss
- Helps keep track of documents and other materials for legal reasons
- Increases security in case of a data breach or cyber attack
- Anthropology museums
- Art museums
- Art centers
- Botanic gardens
- Children’s museums
- Historic houses
- Historic sites
- History museums
- Local and state history museums
- Military museums
- Nature centers
- Natural history museums
- Science/technology centers
- Sculpture gardens
- Transportation museums
- Visitor centers
- Alfred Hitchcock
- Barbara Hammer
- Cecil B. DeMille
- Fred Zinnemann
- George Stevens
- Gus Van Sant
- Jim Jarmusch
- Penelope Spheeris
- Tacita Dean
- 70mm prints are currently unavailable for loan
- The archive does not lend its best existing print of Academy Award-nominated and winning titles
- Prints that are available through commercial distributors or other sources
- The number of print loans of feature-length films is limited to 20 titles a month
Where to Find Archives
- Bibliographies: Consulting bibliographies and works cited sections can help determine where the information is coming from.
- Experts: Contacting experts in the field can help to get a better insight into where/how they find their information. Ask them questions like what repositories did they use for their research? This can help to ensure that you’re utilizing the right resources that are relevant to your research.
- Websites: Look for websites that are dedicated to your research topic. Are there any archives listed that you can reference?
- Local Library/WorldCat: Reach out to a reference librarian at your local library and ask them about accessing the WorldCat database. Here you can find listings for archival materials stored in libraries worldwide.
- Archive Finder: This is a directory that describes over 220,000 collections of primary source material housed in thousands of repositories across the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.
- ArchiveGrid: ArchiveGrid has over 5 million records describing archival materials about historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and more. There are over 1,000 different archival institutions represented by ArchiveGrid, all of which help researchers locate primary sources that are found in archives, libraries, museums, and historical societies.
- ARCHIVESCANADA: ARCHIVESCANADA acts as a gateway to archival resources found in over 800 repositories across Canada. Their primary objective is to provide the Canadian public with greater access to the heritage of Canada.
- Library of Congress: The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world and has millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps, and manuscripts. It is also the main research arm of the United States Congress and the home of the United States Copyright Office.
- National Union Catalog of Manuscripts Collections (NUCMC): The NUCMC provides and promotes bibliographic access to the nation’s documentary heritage.
Who Works at an Archive?
- Archivists: Archivists are specially trained in preserving original material and helping people obtain it. They work with paper documents, photographs, maps, films, and computer records. Archivists typically have a degree in history and often attend classes to learn from other experienced archivists.
- Archives Specialists: Archive specialists assist archivists by applying specialized knowledge about different subjects to the records they serve. Often they work on projects that either describe or preserve a body of records. They will also work directly with the public when records within their expertise are requested.
- Archives Technicians: Similar to an archives specialist, an archives technician assists archivists. The technicians locate records by going into the large rooms where the boxes of documents are stored. They also work with conservators to clean, repair, and preserve older and more fragile artifacts.
- Conservators: Unlike archivists, conservators focus on the content of documents, including their physical makeup. Conservators often have a background in liberal arts and social sciences. They use a variety of tools and materials to treat the documents, and try to use treatment materials that will not adversely affect the artifacts over time. Treatment tasks often include:
- Using microscopes to check ink to see if the document is damaged or flaking.
- Mending of pages using wheat starch paste and strong light-weight Japanese mending paper, which results in almost invisible mends that can be removed later if necessary.
- Rebinding using heavy presses that help new covers remain flat as glues dry.
- Humidity to relax rolled-up paper fibers so the document can be opened without cracking or tearing.
- Records Managers: Records managers work with federal government entities, like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the United States Army to make sure they are creating records that reflect the work they do. They also make sure that agencies are storing their records properly and bringing the most important ones safely to the National Archives to be looked after by archivists and conservators.
Planning to Visit
- College and university archives
- Corporate archives
- Government archives
- Historical societies
- Religious archives
- Special collections
- Film archives
- Web archives
Guidelines for Your Visit
- Registry and Personal Identification: Archives may ask researchers to fill out an application, registry card, online form, or obtain a researcher card before they’re able to use materials. Photo IDs may also be requested; this is to serve as an aid in the use of a criminal investigation in the event that theft takes place. Some archives may also request a note of recommendation or permission before admitting researchers.
- Removal of Coats and Bags: The removal of bulky clothing/items, such as coats, bags, purses, binders, and laptop cases is required prior to entering the research area. This acts as a theft precaution and prevents people from being able to hide the archive materials. Lockers may be provided for those who need to lock up their personal belongings.
- No Food, Drinks, or Gum: Food, drinks, and gum are prohibited within the archive to help preserve the collections.
- Pencils Only: This guideline was established in case accidental marks are made on archival materials — pencil marks can be erased, whereas other writing utensils such as pens and markers cannot.
- Request Forms: Request forms are used to help the archive track what materials the researchers are checking out, for how long, their intended use, and where they will be conducting the research. Forms may also notify the researcher of any legal requirements to take into consideration with how the materials are used.
- Gloves: Gloves are used to help preserve the materials within the archive. The gloves should be provided by the archives if and when they are required.
- Electronics Policy: Electronics such as cellphones, cameras, laptops, recorders, personal scanners, and any other personal digital devices may be restricted within an archive. The lights used by cameras and scanners may cause text and images on documents to fade due to overexposure.
- Handling and Maintaining Order: To ensure the condition of the materials is maintained, all archives ask researchers to handle materials carefully. Specialized tools, like book pillows and gloves, may be offered by the archive to help preserve the materials.
What to Expect
- Archival boxes
Donating to an Archive
What to Donate
- Brochures and fliers
- Films/videos/audio tapes (including identifying information)
- Genealogical information
- Legal documents
- Photographs (with subjects and locations identified)
- Professional papers
- Scrapbooks/photo albums
- Subject files
Organize and Describe
- Who is in the picture/writing/film, etc.?
- Where did it come from?
- Why is it relevant?
- What is the artifact?
- When was it created?
Find a Repository
Factors to Consider
- Access to Collections: Access to donated materials is governed by the repository’s policies regarding availability, duplication, and publication. It is recommended that donors become familiar with such policies and discuss any special needs or concerns with the archivist or curator prior to completing the donation.
- Conditional Gifts: A repository usually is unable to promise that donated materials will be exhibited or used in some other specific fashion as a condition of accepting the gift.
- Copyright: Assignment of copyright is often complex, and donors should work with the repository staff to clarify issues of copyright ownership. Typically, the copyright belongs to the creator of the materials, but can be legally transferred to heirs or others.
- Monetary Appraisals for Tax Deduction: In some situations, it may be possible for a donor to take a tax deduction for the donation of a collection to a repository. To find out for sure, speak with your tax accountant or attorney.
- Monetary Donations: Most repositories are nonprofit organizations. Preparing materials for use by researchers can be the most expensive operation in a repository. Monetary donations are rarely a prerequisite for the acceptance of a collection, but donors who are able to assist repositories by donating funds are encouraged to do so.
- Restrictions on Access: If a donor is concerned that confidential material may be represented in personal or family records, it is important that they identify these items or concerns ahead of time. They will then want to discuss with the archivist the possibility of restricting part of the collection to protect the privacy of the donor or their family.