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Manuscripts and Archives

This guide will help researchers locate and search manuscripts and archival collections

Visiting a special library or archive

Because archives and manuscripts are often irreplaceable, valuable, and fragile, most archives and manuscript libraries have special rules about their use. This means it can be a different experience from visiting your local branch library:

  • Rather than browsing the shelves, identify boxes you wish to consult from a finding aid or catalogue and then request the material from special climate controlled storage areas.
  • Instead of borrowing items, consult them in a reading room.
  • Help items being used in the reading room (no food or drink, put away bags in lockers, and use conservation equipment like white gloves and book pillows).
  • Protect the materials from being marked, use pencils instead of pens, and acid free paper instead of post-it notes.
  • Check the access conditions of collections. While many will be open access, some require special permissions or can only be accessed after a certain date.
  • Remember that most of the material will be unpublished, so you will often need to organise copyright permission before taking a photograph or requesting a scan.
  • Many archives or special libraries require you to register as a user, provide a form of ID, or letter of introduction.
  • Its often useful to contact archives or library before your visit, especially if you have any questions about a collection or it is your first visit.

Visit checklist

Here are the top 5 things to ask when planning a trip to a special library or archives.

Check an institution's webpage or contact them to confirm the process for a particular archive or library.

+ Do you need to request items prior to your visit?

+ Do you need to register as a user?

+ Are there any restrictions?

+ What can you bring with you?

+ What is the process for making copies?

Helpful resources for working with manuscripts and archival records