Please touch the archives!

A librarian friend of mine sent a link to a New York Times article about how archives are becoming friends of researchers and the general public by becoming more hands-on.  I wanted to share it with you all: Handle This Book!

I can’t overestimate the impact that holding a piece of history has on a person.  Frankly, it’s what got me into my current career; As a volunteer, I started cataloging objects and documents at my local history museum.  Just connecting with, say, a 1917 high school basketball poster that was found in the walls of an old house or an unpublished Civil War diary that called October 16, 1864 “a bleak day,” made me feel connected to history.  It moved me so much that I decided to go into museum studies.

My point here isn’t to share my life story, but to emphasize with you all the importance of getting off the internet and into your local museum or library.  Trust me, you will really enjoy getting your hands on the actual historical documents. 

Here are some things to keep in mind before you run out your front door:

  • Check the archive’s hours of operation before you go.  Some require you to make appointments directly with the archivist, others have limited open times.
  • Some archives require you to register with them.  Make sure you bring proper identification (a school id works).
  • Ask what the visitation rules are.  Many archives make you check your belongings at the door.  Others only let you enter with a notebook and a pencil.  For an example, check out this link to the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan: http://bentley.umich.edu/refhome/guide.php
  • Do some preliminary research so you know what documents and manuscritps the archive has before you go.  This will save you time when you get there.

Most of all, have fun doing the research!

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