Monday, January 11, 2016


  • Archives collect original unpublished material
    • Unique, irreplaceable
    • Fragile, vulnerable to improper handling
  • As a consequence, more stringent security procedures than libraries
  • Closed stacks
    • No borrowing by users
  • No borrowing
    • On site use in supervised reading rooms
  • Registration required
    • Name, address, phone #, email, area of research interest, date, signature
    • ID: driver’s licence, student card
  • National, provincial, municipal archives open to public by legislation
  • In-house private or corporate archives may allow access only to employees or those with permissions
  • Depositors may place restrictions on records, e.g. politician’s private papers may be closed for 30 years after death
  • Archives may restrict access to
    • Records containing defamatory, libellous, or personal info about third parties
    • Damaged records, or records in poor physical condition
    • Unprocessed material
  • Handling and security practices include
    • Pencils, laptops, voice recorders only
    • No food, gum chewing, or drink
    • No coats, briefcases, bags, umbrellas, etc.
    • Restriction on amount of material to be used at one time
    • Wearing white cotton gloves when handling fragile material
  • Determine copying policies and services
  • More time is generally needed to answer archival reference questions than library reference questions
    • According to a 1985 article by business archivist Cynthia Swank, inquiries to her archives required anywhere from ten minutes to fifty hours to answer
  • Cynthia G. Swank, “Life in the Fast Lane: Reference in a Business Archives,” The Reference Librarian 13 (Fall 1985): 42.
  • Reference/orientation interview may be required
    • Archival materials arranged very differently from library materials
    • Lack of user familiarity with archival description
    • Need to explain restrictions and policies
Typical reference procedures
  • Fill out registration form
  • Check personal belongings
  • Receive orientation to collection including
    • Procedures and fees for copying, restrictions on collections and rights to publish
    • Sign form indicating understanding and compliance
  • Participate in reference interview
  • Participate in reference interview with archivist
    • Area of research, materials required
    • Good idea to contact archives beforehand by phone, e-mail to assure resources and staff available to help
  • Fill out call slips for material identified
Issues in access and reference
  • Democratization of archives
    • Public right to know for government information
  • Privacy concerns
    • Conflict between principles of open access to information and protection of personal privacy
  • Non paper forms of records
    • Changing technologies mean either reformatting records or maintaining equipment to access information
  • Impact of technology
    • Documents in electronic form only, easily manipulated and changed
    • Demand for online access
  • Expanding user groups, e.g. genealogists, amateur historians, “professional” researchers seeking answers to specific questions, e.g. lawyers, environmentalists, criminal investigators

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