Archives Visit Checklist

A checklist of actions to take before and after contacting an archivist for your appointment. 

Before you contact an archives

Locate Hours of Operation on Website.

See if you can find the days and times your site is open to the public. Also, when does it close? This will help you budget your time accordingly.

“Do I even need an appointment?”

Some archives require researchers to make a formal appointment request in writing or by online form, while others do not. Try to find this information on the archives website.

Location of Archives.

What is the address? “Can I get there by train?” Before making an appointment, it’s important to make sure you can reasonably arrive on time.

Have a Research Statement Ready.

Explain succinctly why you want to visit. “Because I have to” is not a reason any archivist wants to hear! Provide your topic, what you hope to examine during your visit, and list sources you’ve already consulted, both primary and secondary. If your topic is broad, be prepared to narrow it down. Also, don’t forget to introduce yourself. “I’m a student at Eugene Lang College [or The New School]” is enough information.

Identify Collections.

Browse the website and see if there are any collections you specifically wish to examine during your visit. If you do find an interesting collection, check the extent section of the “finding aid” or catalog record to see how big it is (e.g., 1 linear foot or 1,000 linear feet). You may need to select just a portion of it for your initial visit. Include the name of the collection in your introductory message to the archive.

NOTE: It’s okay if you cannot identify a specific collection, but do make a good faith effort to look. Check to see if the archives has an “About” section or a statement concerning the topics it collects. If these subject areas do not align with your research, reconsider contacting a different archive.

Be creative and open-minded.

If you are writing about a very current topic, you might not find any immediately relevant collections in an archive. There might be another way of looking at your topic, however. For example, if you are writing about Instagram, you might consider examining self-portraits or personal photography collections. Don’t hesitate to ask the archivist for guidance on collections they recommend for you, based on your research statement.

After you contact the archives

Be Prepared to Follow Up.

If you don’t receive a confirmation of appointment or no one responds to your e-mail, you need to advocate for yourself. Pick up the phone and call the archives! Double check the website and see if there are any notices of closures that could impact response time.

Review Information.

Look over all the information the archivist provides to you at least two days before your appointment. There might be rules, such as the type of identification you need to bring to enter the building, that will immediately effect you. Don’t be afraid to ask, “What do I need to do to prepare for my appointment?” Inquire if cameras or phones are permitted in the “reading room.” If you do not understand something, it is your responsibility to ask, and it is the archivist’s responsibility to answer clearly and to your satisfaction.

Check Your E-mail Account and Respond.

If the archivist asks you a question by e-mail, you need to respond in a timely fashion. A non-response may be interpreted as you are
canceling your appointment.

Leave Plenty of Time.

Even small collections can be deceptive in terms of the time you need to examine them. You may also discover new avenues of inquiry or approaches to your topic while you are at the archives. You may want to continue your research on another day.

Citing Your Sources.

Sometimes the finding aid will tell you how to cite your archival source. If you are unsure, ask the archivist. There’s a good chance they will be thrilled that you are making the effort. Even professional historians and PhD students get confused about citing archival sources!