Doing Research at a National Archives Facility
In many cases, depending upon the type of research you or your students are doing, it might become necessary to actually step across the threshold of the National Archives. Thousands upon thousands of records are stored there that have not yet been scanned or placed online. Some may never be.
There are 15 research facilities of the National Archives across the United States. The buildings don’t look exactly the same. Some were built especially for the National Archives, but some may be as humble as converted government warehouses. However, the experience inside is largely the same.
We want students to visit us, as well as adults. National Archives records are waiting for resourceful researchers to help discover the truth about history. The documents themselves may have been sitting for decades, untouched, waiting to be uncovered.
When entering any National Archives a facility, there may be a security officer greeting you at the door and specific procedures to follow. Someone will tell you what to do. Occasionally, you may simply walk into a lobby with an attendant at a desk. Either way, with very little effort you will get in. (If you are younger than 14, we would like you to come with an adult.)
Once you are inside, you will need to speak with someone about your project. The attendants and archivists will help you. If you will be looking at original documents, they will have you fill out a researcher application, provide some identification, and read some rules of conduct in order to receive a researcher card. Then you may narrow down your search by reviewing “finding aids.” Once your materials are identified, the attendant will disappear into the “stacks” and ask you to come back at a specified time to retrieve your materials.
Of course, the archives “stacks,” shown below, are not open to the public. Only the archives staff members have access to them.
The boxes on these shelves often hold what appear to be ordinary file folders. These files are from the file cabinets of federal agencies and are stored in the Archives for various reasons. One of those reasons is their importance to future historians!
Other types of records include photographs, maps, and drawings (at all facilities), and motion picture film and audio tapes (only at our College Park location).
For some of the facilities, it is best to make an appointment with an archivist in advance. That way, you will have some boxes already pulled from the “stacks” when you arrive. Advance appointments are not available at all locations.
You can find more information, hours of operation, contact email addresses and phone numbers, and a map of our locations at http://www.archives.gov/locations.