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Archives & Special Collections Research

Contacting Repositories & Making an Appointment

Different repositories and reading rooms where you will consult archives and special collections will have different procedures for requesting and accessing material.

  • Most require appointments and advance notice, especially if collections are stored offsite. It is also common for there to be a limit to the number of visitors that can be accommodated on any given day. 
  • With this in mind, it is always good idea to start the process early
    • Take time to go through the finding aids and/or catalog and identify specific material you'd like to consult.
    • Contact the librarian(s) and/or archivist(s) well in advance of your desired visit.
      • Email: If you have questions before making an appointment, or if email is the repository's only or preferred mode of communication, try to be as clear and specific as you can about your research or what you are interested in consulting (see examples below).
      • Application/registration form: Keep in mind that it might be preferable to schedule your appointment(s) and make your requests via an application/registration system if one is in place (rather than via email), so it's good practice to carefully read all instructions provided on their website.
    • Keep any correspondence cordial and professional and make your requests as detailed as possible. This is the start of a professional relationship, and once you get to know these librarians and archivists, they will be able to point you to other relevant materials in their collection as well as others. 
Email Examples


Vague request

Dear Archives/Library Staff,

I would like to see the John Cage collection. Can I make an appointment for June 3, 2022? Thank you.

Detailed request

Dear Archives/Library Staff,

I would like to request to see box 6, folders 1-4 of the New York Mycological Society (NYMS) Newsletter ca. 1980-1992 from the John Cage Mycology Collection. Would it be possible to schedule an appointment for June 3, 2022 to view these items?

Etiquette & Best Practices

Multiple Appointments

  • Consider the amount of time it might take you to look at the collection and if you might need more than one appointment. 

Instructions and Policies

Read and listen carefully to all instructions and policies provided by staff, and never hesitate to ask questions if you are unsure about something -- they're there to help!

  • Permitted / not permitted items
    • Food and drink are not allowed in special collections reading rooms, nor are pens -- only pencilsIt's a good idea to bring a laptop or tablet to take notes.
    • Most reading rooms will ask you to store your belongings (including bags/cases, coats, etc.) in a locker.
    • Note that special collections reading rooms are kept at cool temperatures to help preserve the materials, so dress accordingly! However, keep in mind that bulky coats and jackets are often not permitted for security reasons.
  • Care and handling
    • Always wash and dry your hands before handling archival and special collections material.
    • While current best practices are to use clean hands (no gloves) for handling paper-based material, you will likely be asked to wear gloves while examining photographs and/or objects (especially metal objects).
  • Photography
    • Follow photography policies provided; these depend on the collection and its access restrictions. Some places will ask you to sign an agreement if you want to take photos.


  • Copies and scans (especially if you need high resolution images) can take up anywhere from several days to several weeks to receive and might require payment for those services.

Note-taking / documentation

  • It's important to keep track of the bibliographic/citation information of the material you are consulting.

  • If photography is permitted, it can be helpful to take a photo of the material/item with the folder/box description.


  • It is good practice to thank the librarians, archivists, curators, and/or any other staff members that assisted you -- both directly as well as in your acknowledgments and/or footnotes.