Tip of the week: Checklist for walking into an archive

Recently, I was asked to think about my advice to researchers walking into an archive  for the first time.

Typical Study Room, Typing Room #220

A typical study room at the New York Public Library, 1926
(New York Public Library Visual Materials, New York Public Library Flickr photostream)

For anyone unfamiliar with conducting research on site, repositories like libraries and archives are rich with primary sources but can require a little getting used to.

Therefore, I decided the way I think about doing research in an archive, and the best way to describe it to others, is in the form of a brief checklist. There’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (actually 6) things to consider before walking into an archive. To celebrate October as Archives Month, you can read what I came up with, my checklist Early Detection: Preparing to be a History Detective, on the website The Ultimate History Project.

How does it compare with your experience in archives? Hit the comments section above or below and let me know.

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October is Archives Month!

October is Archives Month! In celebration of American Archives Month 2012, the Council of State Archivists has compiled a list of special events and activities by state on their website.

Caddo Lake State Park - Plot Plan for Cabins, Roads, and Parking Areas - SP.40.10

Tissue paper with ink and pencil draft of Caddo Lake State Park by draftsman Paul E. Pressler (June 1939). Members of the Civilian Conservation Corp helped build the trails, roads, and cabins at Caddo Lake State Park in Karnack, TX. (Texas State Archives’ Flickr photostream)

Texans will want to check out the PDF of the 2012 Texas Archives Month poster on the Texas State Library and Archives Commission website. This year’s theme is “Preserving Texas’ Civil War Records” to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War — that’s 150 years since the start of the war in 1861. For Civil War and other Texas state records explore their online collections.

Take a look at the Civilian Conservation Corps plans and drawings from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to learn about public works projects in Texas during the Great Depression. Many are on Flickr Commons. A while back, I discovered a stack of old family photos and documents, including my relative’s Certificate of Discharge from the CCC. Part of Company 889, he helped build roads at Caddo Lake State Park. The CCC drawings were a great find that made my relative’s service record come alive (in color, no less). It was no longer just a camp number (Camp SP-1-T), but an actual place that people still enjoy today. For those who don’t happen to have CCC service files hanging around their closet, CCC Enrollee Records can be found at the National Archives at St. Louis. For a list of CCC Camps by state, the Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy organization has a helpful index.

In the midst of pumpkin spice lattes and flu shots, American Archives Month is great way to recognize and celebrate those who preserve the documentary heritage of our communities. The threat of closure for the Georgia State Archives reminds us of the importance of making records available, an essential service to students and teachers, scholars and genealogists, and the public at large. Check out what your local archives has to offer.

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