Section 4.1: Archive Guide

Find your Preservation Story – Researching in an Archive

Words to Know

  • Archivist—The researcher or librarian who can assist you in your research
  • Census (both Iowa, which occurred every decade ending in 5, and federal, every decade ending in 0)—The official count of population, including some details about individuals
  • Citation (record the source document and page or line number)—Detailed information about the source in which you found information and, specifically, where information is located in a source
  • Documentation (prove the case that a property is significant via historic sources)—Official information or evidence that proves a case
  • Microfilm (print or save pages as you read, if possible)—Film containing photographs of a newspaper, catalog, or other document
  • Microfiche (like microfilm, but cards)—A card-sized, flat piece of film containing photographs of the pages of a newspaper, catalog, or other document
  • Stacks (if allowed, walking in the stacks lets you to find materials you might have missed in the catalog search)—The part of an archive or library in which the books and other holdings are stored

Understanding Searching

  • Keyword Search (think creatively about words related to your search topic)—This type of search is like what you use in Google to search for words anywhere in a source.
  • Subject Search (think how standard subjects, like “genealogy,” “Iowa City history,” or “Des Moines People,” might help your search)—This type of search looks for words entered in the subject field of a database, those standard categories entered by database creators.
  • Title Search (sometimes you know the name of a source)—This type of search looks for specific document titles.

Before You Go

  • Call ahead to check hours of operation and costs of document copying.
  • Tell an archivist about the project you’re working on so he or she can better assist you.
  • Plan to arrive earlier in the day so you have enough time to research.
  • Bring a pencil and paper for note-taking. Some archives don’t allow computers and most don’t allow pens.
  • Develop lists of keywords, subjects, and titles for searching and bring these with you to the archive.
  • Bring your smart phone to photograph documents if that is allowed in the archive.
  • Be prepared to leave your bag, coat, and pens (and possibly cell phones or computers) in a storage locker if archive policy requires it. It’s better to carry few things to an archive if you aren’t sure of the policy on personal belongings.

In the Archive

  • Introduce yourself to the archivists on staff.
  • Ask if writing utensils, bags, and electronic devices, like phones an computers, are allowed inside.
  • Ask if non-flash photography is permitted.
  • Be quiet and respectful of other researchers.
  • Silence any electronic devices you use.
  • Clean and dry your hands before touching the documents.
  • Handle documents carefully; don’t disorder them.
  • Take detailed notes on what you find and where you found it.
  • Thank an archivist for helping you today!

This project was supported in part by the State Historical Society of Iowa, Historical Resource Development Program.