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Using Archives

Information on archival and primary source research, and how to access the University of Melbourne Archives

Getting started

A visit to an archive is rarely the first step in a research project; a thorough understanding of your research subject is necessary before you access the primary sources. Knowledge of the secondary material relating to your subject will ensure that you know both what you are looking for and understand the context of the documents in a collection. It will also allow you to decide what archival material will be most useful to your project. From your secondary reading you will pick up names, places, organisations and dates that will help you to focus your search for archival material.

Once you have delved into the secondary sources relating to your project, you should search the online directories, such as the National Library of Australia's Trove and the databases of individual archival institutions to see what kind and quantity of primary material is available. It is important to do this before contacting the reference service of an archive.

Arranging a visit

Once you have found a collection that you wish to view, you will need to contact the archive to order the material. Most archives have their repositories located off-site, which means that it takes time (anywhere from half an hour to a week) to deliver material to the reading room.

It is important to note the information about the collection that can be found on the archives website. If it is a large collection, you will need to narrow down your request. There is no point ordering 100 boxes if you only have time to look at 10; moreover, most archives will have a limit on how many boxes may be ordered at once.

You will also need to check if it is a restricted or open access collection. If it is restricted, you will need to allow time to seek permission. This process can take anywhere from a few days to several months, depending on the collection. Speak to the reference staff at the archives for more information about restrictions.