Archival research takes time, and, if you are traveling, it can take money. You do not want to go into a major research visit unprepared and waste valuable research time figuring out where to start or be surprised by access policies that limit the amount of work you can do during your visit. Follow these steps to plan for efficient and productive research visits in archives.
Put in the work necessary to have informed discussions with archives staff and develop a realistic, achievable research plan. In order to do that, you need to get a basic understanding of the collections you want to examine, the extent of the materials within those collections you want to focus upon, and any unique guidelines for accessing the materials (restrictions, technical limitations, etc.).
1. Note locations and identifiers
2. Pay attention to extent notes
3. Write down questions to ask an archivist
Archivists have built up a wealth of knowledge about the resources in their collection and regularly interact with colleagues and researchers who have uncovered related resources at other institutions. Be sure to utilize their expertise before, during, and after your research visit. While it is not always required, it is generally advisable to contact an archivist in advance if you plan on doing extensive research. They can point out resources you may have missed and help you develop your research plan.
1. Define your topic and thesis
2. Explain your previous research
3. Point out the resources you identified
4. Ask question about other relevant sources in their collection, hours, camera and duplication polices, access limitations or restrictions, etc.
Archival research takes time and if you are traveling or examining large amounts of material you will want to develop a plan for efficient and productive research. Going into the research visit with a plan allows you to hit the ground running as soon as you get onsite. You may even want to communicate your research plan to the archives staff so they can pull the resources you want to start with and have them ready and waiting for you.
1. Prioritize the most important and hardest to find resources
2. Utilize time saving measures (cameras, photocopies, etc.)
3. Check the library hours and save materials in the main stacks for last
Any unnecessary time spent dealing with the logistics of a research visit will take away from the time you are able to spend analyzing the collection(s) and executing your research plan. Thinking ahead about the logistics of the research visit will help you stick to your research plan and avoid time-wasting surprises in the archives.
1. Know what research materials are permitted and have them ready (pencils, computers, notebooks, etc.)
2. Have the necessary form of payment required for photocopies or scans (if they are permitted)
3. Get an idea of where will you take breaks and eat lunch so as to optimize your research time (Student lounge, cafeteria, restaurants nearby, etc.)