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Introduction to Archival Research: Visiting Archives

Visiting Archives

Visiting an archive can be unfamiliar and intimidating. Keep in mind that archives are meant to be used by researchers! Most archivists will be happy to welcome you in and help you get started on your research. 

Every archival repository will have specific policies for using the Reading Room and accessing collections. While most archives have the same general types of rules, consult the archive you wish to visit for information about their policies. You may look them over before you go, or an archivist will explain their policies when you arrive. 

Image Credit: University of Colorado Boulder Libraries

CU Boulder Libraries' Reading Room policies can be found on the Rare and Distinctive Collections website:

Visiting Archives: FAQ

Are archives open to the public?

Many archives are open to public users. However, some specialized archives are limited to academic researchers with certain institutional affiliations.

CU Boulder Libraries' Reading Room is open to all users.

Can I use the archive for a non-academic purpose?

Most archives allow access to their material for any reason - academic, geneological, creative, and more. Some specialized academic archives require an explanation of your scholarly research project.

CU Boulder Libraries' Rare and Distinctive Collections welcomes all research projects.

Can I browse the stacks? Archives' stacks are usually closed to patrons, for preservation and organization purposes. You can search the archives' catalogs or Finding Aids to identify what you would like to request, and the archivist will bring your material to you.
How do I make a request?

When you identify material in Finding Aids or catalogs you would like to access, provide as much information as possible to the archivist, including: 

  • Collection name and collection number 
  • Series number and series name
  • Box, folder, or item number - as much detail as available

Some archives will have a specific request slip or online form for making requests. 

At CU Boulder Libraries, email your requests to access archival material to

How much can I request?

Request the material that you'd like to see, keeping in mind how much time you have to use it. The archivist may work with you to limit your request, according to their time and availability. 

Usually, you will only be able to use one box of a material at a time. The rest of your request will be waiting on a cart or hold shelf. You can often ask to keep your requested materials on the hold shelf for a period of days, if you plan to return to use them again soon.

When is the Reading Room open?

Archives' Reading Rooms are usually open during designated times, often weekday business hours. Some archvies may have evening or weekend hours. Archives within universities are often open during summer and school breaks, because that is when many academic researchers make their research trips!

See the Rare and Distinctive Collections website for CU Boulder Libraries' Reading Room hours.

Do I need an appointment?

Some archives prefer appointments, especially those with limited staff. Other archives allow walk-ins during Reading Room hours. 

When you make an appointment, the archive can have your requested material available before you arrive. Otherwise, you will need to wait while the archivist pages your material to the Reading Room.

The Reading Room at CU Boulder Libraries cannot currently accomodate walk-in researchers.
Please make a research appointment by contacting us at

Do I need to register?

Most archives will ask you for some amount of contact information when you arrive. Some will ask you to register ahead of time. 

We will give you a brief registration form on your first visit to the Reading Room.

What can I bring to the archive?

For preservation of the material, most archives limit what you can bring into the Reading Room. There should be lockers or other designated space to store your personal items while you work.

Items commonly prohibited from Reading Rooms include: 

  • Food and drinks, including water, coffee, gum, and cough drops
  • Pens and markers
  • Bags and laptop cases
  • Professional camera equipment
  • Coats and outdoor clothes
  • Notebooks, folders, or outside books

Items usually permitted in archival Reading Rooms include: 

  • Pencils
  • Loose paper - though specific paper may be provided to you
  • Laptops
  • Headphones 
  • Cellphones - with sound off
Can I take pictures or make photocopies?

Each archive has its own policies about pictures and photocopies. Most allow some method of photographing or copying material. 

There may be a charge for photocopies or for reproductions of photographs, media items, or oversized material. 

Some material may have additional restrictions, depending on copyright status or donor agreements.

See the Rare and Distinctive Collections website for our reproduction policies.

Do I need to wear white gloves? In fact, gloves are discouraged when handling paper records, because it's more difficult to handle pages without damage. Gloves may be required to handle photographs, objects, or specialized material. The archive will provide gloves. 
Do I need to be quiet in the archives? In most archives, you should feel free to discuss your projects, ask questions, and network with fellow researchers. Some archives provide earplugs for visitors who prefer a quiet workspace.