As part of the Clear Sailing: Navigating the Archive symposium in July 2019, delegates took part in a workshop to share their experiences of accessing information from archives. In particular, delegates identified where information was clear and informative and where it was confusing or unhelpful.

This guidance draws on this workshop to provide advice for archivists writing access information for researchers.

Do

  • Have information for researchers on a variety of platforms (websites, leaflets etc.)
  • Follow the user journey with your information (planning a visit, resources available before vising, arriving – where to go and what to do, the onsite experience, facilities available)
  • Make your language as clear as possible, using short sentences in bullet point format
  • Keep all information up-to-date, especially if it is about events, and about closure periods
  • Use images when necessary to illustrate what your collections and facilities look like
  • Consider the multi-entry points to your webpages from search engines (Google etc.) and ensure there is always a link to the appropriate information for a new website visitor
  • Include information that is useful for researchers to know before they visit
  • Say what is in your collection and what is not in your collection if there are expectations
  • Provide easy and clear access to contact details
  • Ensure visible and frequent links to your online catalogue
  • Explain your remote enquiries service and how long a researcher should expect to wait for a response to any enquiry (telephone, email, post etc.)
  • Emphasise the physical location of your research room if it’s different to expectation / main site of business
  • Include information on your policy (and any costs) for photography, scanning, and note-taking
  • Include information on your policy (and any costs) for licensing third party copyrights material held in your collection
  • Give an idea on how much material you think a researcher can get through in one visit
  • Include information on the sustainability / longevity of the archive or web resource (if applicable)
  • Encourage donations to the collection and feedback from users

Don’t

  • Be inconsistent
  • Hide contact details
  • Ask for personal information that seems irrelevant without stating why you are asking for it
  • Have an unreasonably low item limit for requests
  • Structure your information by what archivists or curators find useful – write for your audience
  • Use jargon
  • Add obstacles to access to search box
  • Use unclear / small sized fonts
  • Include out-of-date information
  • Use a negative tone; red text or capital letters

If possible

  • Provide a method for self-booking appointments (with clear, step-by-step instructions)
  • Have as few databases to search as possible
  • Provide a personal contact for researchers rather than a generic email / anonymous response
  • Consider an online chat option / Skype session with researchers or even monthly drop-ins
  • Consider keeping in touch with researchers to share acquisitions and developments and to keep the conversation open with researchers

Last updated: August 2019

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What connects our members’ collections? Here we put a spotlight on some of the curious themes that tie us together.