You are here

Access and Programs

While a majority of the preservation and processing work involved in keeping historical records happens out of the public eye, it is important to consider your repository’s public role.  How will you attract researchers, and facilitate their work?   How will you engage with your local community and make them aware of the value of your repository?  What marketing tools will you use to influence how people perceive your work?  

Fortunately, raising public awareness of your repository does not require huge financial or staffing resources and it can be accomplished with modest investments of time and creativity.   Often, simply seizing opportunities such as Archives Month to collaborate with other repositories or professional organizations will help get the word out about you’re the good work done by your repository. 

Regardless of what methods you employ to raise awareness of your repository it is important to consider how research use, marketing, and public programs work together to establish your institutional identity.  A thoughtful and coordinated set of outreach tools will not only attract new users but will raise broad community support for your repository.

In the following video, Jim Gates, Library Director for the Giamatti Research Center at National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY discusses providing reference services to a diverse community of researchers.   

In this section you will assess the following:

Research Use

As custodians of historical records, you are responsible for preserving historical materials and making them available to users.  Your users may vary from professional historians and genealogists to journalists, government officials and students.  They will request information by phone, emails and in-person visits. Each type of user and each format will require its own approach to connecting people to the information in your collections.   

Working with researchers requires a unique combination of customer service and research skills. Researchers will ask you to locate specific information as well as help locating collections that will answer their research questions.  While locating and copying a single record in your collection is practical, collecting and analyzing large volumes of records will overburden your staff and resources. You will need to set limits on the quantity and type of research you will do for users or consider charging fees for in-depth research.  Encourage researchers with complex research questions to visit your repository and conduct research on their own.  

Many researchers will want copies of certain records in your collection.  How you chose to provide copies and at what cost to the researcher depends on the types of materials requested and your available resources. Written policies describing what materials can be copied, how they will be copied and by whom, will help protect your records during reproduction.            

For security purposes it is important to document who uses your collections and what records they use.  A system of registration forms, identification checks and call slips are an essential part of securing your records while researchers use them. You should also provide a separate, easily monitored space for researchers using your collections and ensure that researchers are monitored at all times while using your collections.   

Providing access to your records raises questions about what records are available to users.  Can users conduct research using unprocessed collections? Do you restrict access to fragile or damaged records?  The answers to these questions vary for each repository but professional standards recommend you open collections for research to the greatest extent possible.  Access to collections containing certain types of personal private information is governed by laws and you should be careful to ensure you know about and follow those laws.  You can decide how you want to restrict unprocessed or fragile material based on preservation needs and available resources.  Written policies documenting your decisions will help users understand your restrictions and ensure that they are applied consistently.   


Research policies and procedures:

  • Raise the public profile of your repository and improve public confidence in your stewardship of historical materials.
  • Collect information about users and their interests which you can use to improve programming, finding aids and acquisitions.
  • Improve donor confidence in your repository.

Assessment Worksheet

Reference Policy Template

Research Room Registration Forms

Research Room Log Book

Records Retrieval Request Form

Standards and Best Practices

Public Programs

Public exhibit, Adirondack History Museum, Elizabethtown, NY

Public exhibit, Adirondack History Museum, Elizabethtown, NY

Nigerian Officials touring Albany County Hall of Records, Albany, NY

Nigerian Officials touring Albany County Hall of Records, Albany, NY

Public programs give you an opportunity to reach out to your community and raise awareness of your repository and its holdings.  Your public programs should support your mission, meet the needs of your audience, and fall within the limits of your fiscal and staffing resources.  You can reach wider audiences by hosting an open house, giving presentations to students or community groups, leading a walking tour of areas documented in your collection and presenting exhibits (online and on-site).

October is an especially important time to consider launching public programs. October is Archives Month and many local and regional organizations coordinate activities designed to draw attention to historical records repositories in your area.  These collaborative outreach programs provide opportunities for small repositories with limited resources to raise the profile of their repository. 

Public programs also give you a unique opportunity to collect feedback from your community and identify potential new audiences for your collections. Soliciting reactions to an exhibit, collecting information on visitors to your open house, or assessing students’ questions during a classroom presentation all provide insights into how people perceive your repository and what they would like from your repository.  You can use this information to refine and improve your programs to better meet the needs of your community.


Public Programs:

  • Encourage greater use of your collections
  • Promote understanding of the importance of your repository and your collections
  • Gather information about the needs and interests of your users and the general public
  • Demonstrate your accountability and relevance to your community.  

Assessment Worksheet

Outreach Plan

Standards and Best Practices

Marketing/Raising Awareness

Marketing has become central to the work of historical records repositories as a way to raise the profile of your repository, attract new financial support, interest new donors, and bring new users to your reading room.

While marketing enhances the reputation of your repository, it is also an essential component of many of your public programs. The success of your exhibits, lectures, and public tours depends on attracting a broad audience.  Similarly, effective advocacy on behalf of your repository depends on coordinated and consistent marketing to enlist support for your cause.         

The increasing importance of the internet as a marketing and communication tool makes your repository’s website critical to your marketing efforts. Your website does not need to be elaborate to be effective but it should be up-to-date.  For a basic but informative website consider including contact information, a general description of your holdings, procedures for accessing your collections and any news or upcoming events at your repository.  A well-planned, basic website can expand as your program develops, to include online exhibits, collection descriptions, and social media postings.    

More traditional marketing materials such as press kits are also valuable marketing tools for your repository.  A press kit is a collection of background information about your repository and your staff that you can provide to media outlets.  Combined with press releases, press kits are a powerful tool for marketing your public programs through various media outlets.     

In addition to press releases and a website, new social media such as weblogs, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter offer numerous opportunities for marketing your repository.  While social media tools are relatively simple to implement, it is important to consider how they will communicate with your community and what messages you will convey through your social media presence.   

Decisions about messages you choose to communicate and how to communicate should be governed by a marketing plan.   A marketing plan can be as simple as a schedule for marketing activities.  A more elaborate marketing plan combines this schedule with descriptions of the audiences you are trying to reach, and the strategies you will use to communicate with them.  Regardless of its complexity, a written plan will focus your marketing activities and communicate a consistent institutional identity.


  • Improves the public perception of your repository as a responsible steward of historical materials and an important contributor to your community.
  • Attracts new benefactors and collection donors to your repository.
  • Contributes to the success of your public programs and advocacy efforts. 

Assessment Worksheet

Press Release Template

Standards and Best Practices


Copyright is the legal framework that governs the use and management of most items in your repository. Copyright law guarantees creators of a work certain exclusive rights to that work for a defined period of time. After this period of protection, a work passes into the public domain where copyright protections do not apply. Copyright protections do not require a creator to publish a work or register it with the US Copyright Office. 

It is best practice to assess the copyright status of a collection when you acquire it.  Keep in mind, owning the collection does not mean you own its copyright. If you determine that the donor owns the copyright for the collection have them sign an agreement assigning those rights to your repository. You may also receive a collection where the donor does not own the copyright, does not have the authority to transfer the rights to your repository or chooses not to.  Someone may donate a collection of photographs documenting student life at a local school to your repository.  In this case the original photographers would own the copyright to their photos and the donor would not be able to transfer those rights to you.  It is also fairly common for a collection to have many copyright holders such as a collection containing letters between two people. In some cases it may not be possible to determine who owns the copyright. 

It is likely that manuscript or archival materials in your repository are covered by copyright protections and, as a result, you need to be aware of what you can and cannot do with these materials.  Before you digitize materials, or copy an item for preservation purposes, you will need to determine if the copyright protection applies or if it has expired and the item is in the public domain. If the material is still protected you should identify who owns the copyright and obtain their permission before duplicating the material. When duplicating materials for researchers it is important you make them aware of their copyright responsibilities.  

Judging whether or not to reproduce an item as part of a publication or digitization project is a question of risk management.  Determining if the online research value of a collection outweighs the risks of reproducing it depends on your organizations willingness to accept those risks. You should consult with legal council to determine the level of risk your repository is willing to assume and you should document your decisions in your access policies, copying policies, and identify your collections’ copyright status in your finding aids.


  • Based on copyright status, make informed decisions about what items are most eligible for digitization, use in classroom packets or exhibits.
  • Limit the risks associated with reproducing and distributing historical materials.

Assessment Worksheet

Standards and Best Practices