Reading Room Practices

Every institution has different reading room guidelines that their staff and researchers follow. The guidelines that you create will depend on your institution’s needs, but archives generally tend to follow a few of the same general principles:

  • Gloves should be used when handling photographs but are not necessary for other documents; however, researchers’ hands should be clean before handling collections. Cotton gloves should not be used.
  • No food, water, or pens should be allowed in the reading room. Bags should be kept in a separate area. Please ask researches to remove any dangling jewelry, like necklaces.
  • Physical note-taking should be done in pencil only. Some institutions allow laptops, while others do not. Some also choose to have photocopying available for items that can be photocopied, usually for a small fee.
  • Staff members should be in the room with researchers to answer questions and to ensure documents are handled properly.
  • Researchers should only keep one box and one folder open at a time and should make sure all documents and folders remain in the same order.
  • If photocopying is allowed, researchers should be given a clear guide on how they may or may not use the images in accordance with copyright laws and institutional policies.
Women and Leadership Archives Reading Room. Piper Hall. undated.

Reading Room Policy Examples

This guide from the University of Texas at San Antonio is a good example of a short guide that covers the most basic rules.

This longer guide from Stanford University covers more specific reading rooms rules. These guides may be sufficient or you may need to draft a new set of rules that are specific to your institution and space. 

Also see our Book and Documents Handling page for more best practices.