Tips for researchers’ first time in the archives: photos and scanning

blue and white arabic writing on page from Q'uran
Photo credit: Ali Wahid

Carrie Smith, Lecturer at Cardiff University, recently posted a thread on Twitter with basic advice for first-time archives researchers. The thread has  tips that work well for our own RBML users — even for our more regular visitors. Particularly useful were ideas regarding photography/scanning:

  • If you can take photographs (and at RBML you can use digital cameras and/or cell phone cameras in the Reading Room), make sure you frame a photograph properly, rather than attempt to cut it after, and include any copyright info in the photograph.

In the RBML Reading Room, you can create digital copies for the purposes of private study or research for a non-commercial purpose. In most cases, RBML owns only the physical object and therefore does not assume any responsibility for literary property, copyright, or any other legal issues involved in the publication and reproduction of items in its collections. It is the responsibility of the user to secure permission from the appropriate copyright holder.

vintage assorted books on shelf
Photo credit: Roman Craft

At the RBML you can place orders for photocopy/low-resolution scans as well as high-resolutions and time-based media conversions.

  • When you start photographing, have a plan. Suggestion: photograph the cover of the folder, which has the reference on it, before the contents. Each time you see a folder cover in the mass of photos you know you’re in a new reference.

Some users photograph the folder to make sure to get the complete folder identification. Others make sure that the folder information is visible in the photograph -– along a top or side margin (document and citation information all in the some photo!) You can also photograph the back cover of the folder to mark where the folder ends. If you are using a PDF scanner app (iOS, Android) on your phone, you could also make each folder its own PDF file.

  • Have a blank piece of paper with you. This will be a godsend if you need to photograph very thin, translucent, carbon paper with any hope of reading it later.
  • Some folders from our older collections may not contain very much contextual information. Take a photo of the box label, as well as the folder heading.
  • Take a list of the folders you have requested, tick off what you have looked at and annotate as you would a bibliography. If you can remember 6 months later which folder has that one useful letter in, you have won at the game of archival research!

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Libraries put together a comprehensive and recently updated guide on Using Digital Tools for Archival Research. However, keep in mind that in the RBML Reading Room, tripods, flash, or additional lighting is not permitted. Personal copiers and scanners are not permitted. And please remember to turn off the flash element and turn off any sound elements.