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Home > Help > Primary Source Research Guide > Visiting Repositories > Preparing for Your Visit

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Primary Source Research Guide
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- Finding Aids
- Anatomy of a Finding Aid
Finding Primary Sources
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Visiting Repositories
> Preparing for Your Visit
- What To Expect
- Links and Contact Information
Use and Reproduction
- Copyright
- Citing Sources

Visiting Repositories

Although it's now possible to find many primary sources on the Web, on microfilm, or in published form, there is still no substitute for holding and viewing the original documents. And since only a relatively small portion of sources are digitized, there is probably much more on your topic awaiting you in the archives.

Sophia Smith Collection and College Archives Reading Room
Researchers in the Smith College Archives and Sophia Smith Collection Reading Room.

Preparing for your visit

  • If the repository you want to visit is at a distance, you should call ahead to be sure they'll be open and that the materials you want to see are readily available. In some cases an appointment is necessary.

  • Visit the repository's Web site and familiarize yourself with their policies, hours, and location. Some repositories require a picture ID on the first visit.

  • If coming from a distance, familiarize yourself with the area: What other repositories are nearby? Where can you park? Where can you eat?

  • Most repository Web sites include some information about their collections, so you can get a head start on your research by reviewing their collection lists, finding aids, catalog records and subject guides (See Resources). Do not assume however, that everything will be represented online. Once you get to the repository, it is very likely the reference archivist will suggest additional sources.

  • If there is no finding aid online, contact the archives by phone or email. It's usually possible to obtain a copy via mail or email. If the repository is nearby, you can just go view their finding aids in person and have the archivist help you to navigate their resources.

  • Allow plenty of time! Primary source research is much more time-consuming than secondary source research. You may have to read through many documents to find information related to your topic.

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Project funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Last update: May 24, 2004