Planning your visit to use archives

Planning your visit to use archives

Viewing photographs in the Archive Service searchroom.  (Copyright reserved.  University of Glasgow).Planning ahead is always advisable to ensure you make the most of a visit to any archive repository.

Most archives have rules and regulations which seem strange to start with.  For example most only allow the use of pencils rather than pens for making notes as there is less danger of causing damage to unique and irreplaceable documents.

The University of Glasgow’s rules and regulations (3 pages, 50kb‌) on using archives are fairly typical but you should check if there is anything else before you visit a new repository. Some things to consider:

  • Are there any special conditions of access for that particular archive repository? Some places require a formal letter of introduction from your University before they will allow access.
  • What identification do you need to take with you?
  • Do you need to make an appointment?
  • Will the records you want be available at the time you want to visit?  For example sometimes records need to be brought from off-site stores, or they may be too fragile to consult without prior conservation treatment or some 20th and 21st century records may have restrictions to protect the confidentiality of the subjects.
  • If you are planning a whole day visit, is there somewhere you can buy food locally or should you take something with you?
  • Can you take a laptop computer?
  • What size of bag will you be permitted to take into the reading room?  Are there lockers to leave larger bags?
  • Do they allow pre-ordering of documents so you don’t have to wait for them to come from the stores?
  • Do they allow digital cameras or do they have a photocopying service?

Planning to use archive held in private hands

There is no legal obligation for archives held by private individuals or organisations to let you see their archives.  You should write outlining your research topic and why it is important that you see their archive and then hope that they will grant you access. There is little that you can do if they say no.