Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Women's History Month 2021: Research at the Museum

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay https://pixabay.com/users/stevepb-282134/

At some point, after you exhaust what a museum has online via their catalog, digital collections, and finding aids you'll want to actually travel to the museum and do some research. Museums and archives aren't like libraries where you, for the most part, may just show up. You need a plan. That plan will involve not only what your research question is but what the museum has to answer that question. You also need to make sure that you contact them to make sure they are ready for your visit. 

Some things to consider before you leave home are:
  • Call, email, or consult the website first regarding what restrictions or rules you need to be aware of.  For example, is the collection restricted; do they need to retrieve it offsite; are there limits to who can research there; do you need to make an appointment; what are their hours?
  • Talk to the archivist or staff about your project so they can suggest other material that might be of help to your project.
  • If the museum is far from your home, see if there is another way to access the collection. For example, has the collection been microfilmed and sold to other repositories near you? Will they do a quick look-up for you or can you send a request (and payment) for copies to be made and mailed.  
  • Ask about their photocopy policy. They may not allow you to make copies and instead they will make the copies for you at a cost. Some items might be too fragile to copy and you will have to transcribe them. Photocopy procedures may differ depending on if the item is a document or a photograph.
  • Their online catalog may include a  finding aid. Consult this to better understand what is available in that collection.

My biggest tip is to be prepared for your trip and don't just show up at the museum. Sure, there are times that might happen but if you can prepare at all, it's for the best. Otherwise, you might waste time and not find everything that is available.

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