Finding Primary Sources: Using Primary Sources
Many primary source materials are kept in closed stacks and will be retrieved for you. Contact the repository in advance to obtain information about the collection(s) you wish to use, and to verify hours, use policies, and restrictions.
Be aware of special handling restrictions for using special collections materials. Primary sources may be very fragile, and repositories have particular rules governing the use of these materials. Do not be suprised if you are asked to:
- lock up any bags or coats
- use pencil instead of pen
- wear cotton gloves when working with photographs
- work with a small quantity of documents at a time
Photocopying, scanning, or taking photographs may or may not be possible. Always check with the staff to determine rules and charges for duplication.
If you are working with older documents, be prepared to deal with the challenges of other people's handwriting. More recent documents (1900 to the present) are generally typewritten, but the farther back in time you travel in your research, the more likely it is that you will be faced with the task of deciphering someone else's scrawl. Guides at the Maryland State Archives and the National Archives of the United Kingdom provide clues for reading older script.