Archival Toolbox

Suggestions for your “Archival Toolbox”, or What to Bring with You

To leave in your locker (for those “just incase I need it” moments):

  • Photo ID
    • This is more for the registration process than any moment during the day but it is often required
  • Charger for your camera battery (or extra batteries in addition to those you bring into the reading room)
    • I’ve been known to bring my charger into the reading room towards the end of the day and charge my camera battery if the first one has died and I’ve already been using my second one for awhile
  • Snack/Lunch
    • Even though I don’t generally break for lunch, I always have one with me incase my blood sugar is against me that day or for immediate consumption once the archives closes
  • Magnifying glass
    • My Mom bought me a magnifying glass after I started consulting more and more photographic collections. Usually the archives has one available but having my own has come in handy the few times that one wasn’t otherwise available.
  • Sweater
    • Even on the hottest days in the summer, reading rooms can be super COLD
  • Cash
    • Lockers sometimes require a quarter to use (typically refundable at the end of the day) so it’s a good idea to have one on hand
    • Photocopy requests sometimes require cash on site
      • It’s always a good idea to check the photocopy costs/policy prior to arrival
  • USB key
    • It has come in handy on more than one occasion when an archivist has said “Oh! I have a digital copy of such and such that you can have” or other similar moments
  • Cord to attach your digital camera to your laptop (if applicable)
    • You may think your memory card is huge and that you’ll never fill it but it’s better to have a way to empty it if it’s suddenly 10am and you’re memory card is full and you still have a full day of research to complete
    • (The netbook I got has a slot for my memory card which has eliminated my need to carry an additional cord – something to consider if you’re purchasing a new computer or camera)
  • Hand Sanitizer
    • There’s generally somewhere for you to wash your hands during the day or after leaving the archives but there are also times when you’ve managed to touch documents with an unrecognizable colour of mould that you think might be carrying some sort of plague – a bit of hand sanitizer is nice to have on hand for those days
  • Ear plugs or Mp3 player with Headphones
    • I don’t pack these myself but I’ve noticed quite a few researchers do. I assume it’s a balance between blocking out the noises in the reading room and helping to “zone in” to your own work – it might be something to consider if you are distracted by noise

To Bring into the Reading Room:

Note that bags, including laptop bags and camera cases, are not generally permitted in the reading room. You have to carry everything from your locker to your desk in the reading room so consider what you absolutely must have with you in the reading room vs. what can stay in your locker (less risk of dropping your laptop this way). I generally wear something with pockets for smaller items like my camera, batteries, etc

  • Laptop and charger
    • I didn’t have a laptop initially and took all my notes by hand. My hand used to go numb and I would have wrist pains the next day from the amount that I wrote out (I also didn’t have a digital camera at that time). Buying a laptop was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
    • Re: Your laptop battery – Although most larger reading rooms now have plugs available for researchers to plug in their laptops, some places do not. This may require extension cords or may not be a possibility.
      • My original laptop had a battery life of roughly 20 seconds. My netbook now lasts 12 hours or more which has been exceedingly useful on some of my research trips to smaller archives or those without traditional reading rooms
  • Camera, memory card, battery, extra battery
    • My second best decision (first was the laptop) was buying a digital camera (ok, I’ll be honest, it was a very thoughtful gift)
    • Note that use of the flash is not generally permitted
    • My first digital camera used AA batteries which died really fast. I used to fill one pocket with new batteries and put the dead ones into the other one as I switched through them
    • My latest camera has one of those camera specific batteries which is handy because it lasts longer but risky since I can’t replace is easily
      • I actually now have two batteries (and keep my charger in my locker)
    • Some places require  that you wear the camera strap around your wrist for every photo (to prevent damage to the documents if you drop the camera)
      • I had to be reminded several times at the BC Archives about this practice (it was rather embarrassing) – now I do it all the time
  • Folder with your notes
    • Copy of your correspondence with the archives (who did you correspond with, what did you request)
    • Notes relevant to the material you are researching
      • Best thing one of my office mates taught me: make a timeline of the events surrounding your project (major and minor) – this can be an extremely helpful tool
      • Do not bring in ALL your notes, only those most relevant to the work at hand – some archives will check every sheet of paper you come in and out of the reading room with and large amounts of notes can be a hindrance in these cases
    • I have seen multiple locations that do not permit spiral-bound notebooks so it’s best to avoid these
  • Extra paper
    • I usually have a few sheets for emergencies but I generally type my notes and reading rooms often have scrap paper available
  • I suppose a pencil would be a good thing to have but, in all honesty, I generally never bother anymore – there are always more than enough at the archive and usually a pencil sharpener in the reading room. I do however bring pencils to smaller archives or places where I’m not sure of the set-up
    • Note that many places do not permit mechanical pencils
  • Your Reader Card (if applicable)
    • Some archives give you a reader card which you are required to either display on your desk or consult frequently to get the number off of it for your material request forms
    • If you have been to the archive before, remember to bring your card with you – many places charge for replacement cards
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