HomeBrowseAdvanced SearchAboutHelpContact

What Is a Finding Aid? Glossary


Plan Visit

What should I expect when visiting an archives or special collections library?

You have used RIAMCO's website to locate the primary sources you need and now you are ready to look at the material. Here are five easy steps to follow to access archival collections:

  1. Identify what collection(s) you wish to view and which boxes you wish to see within that collection.
    Each collection guide (also called a finding aid) contains an inventory that lists what materials are in the collection and in what boxes they are stored. Select the boxes you wish to view from here. If you have any questions, please contact the host repository.

  2. Contact the repository that houses the material you want to see.
    Each finding aid has a title page -- the first page you see when you open the finding aid -- which contains information about how to contact the repository. Be sure to call or email at least 48 hours before you plan to visit with the collection number (see glossary) and box numbers you wish to see. Many repositories have to retrieve materials from an off-site location and cannot produce the materials immediately upon request.

  3. Be prepared to show identification, fill out some paperwork, and lock your personal belongings in a locker.
    While all archivists and librarians want you to be able to see this special stuff, we also need to make sure it survives for future generations to experience. We follow these procedures with everyone who wishes to use our materials. Find out the rules about using your laptop and digital camera when signing in.

  4. Use your head, write with lead!
    Bring some pencils with you to the archives because pens are not allowed (have you ever had a pen explode on you before?). When you are using the materials, please do so with care. Pay attention to what you are doing and how you are doing it. If you have any doubts at all about how to handle something, ask. We are always happy to help. Remember, most of these items are one-of-a-kind. If something is ruined, there are often no other copies to be had!

  5. Spread the word!
    After your primary source experience, be sure to tell others about it. The best way to ensure that these exciting, interesting materials stay accessible for years to come is to continue having engaged patrons like you. How do we do that? With your help -- word of mouth!