You are here

Manage the Use of Archival Records

It is essential to monitor researchers and track the use of records. These practices signal to your researchers, volunteers, and staff that your organization is serious about collections and is monitoring their use. This may deter thefts. If a theft occurs, the resulting documentation provides evidence of who has used materials and when, as well as other information that may help to identify a suspect.

There’s a side benefit: Tracking the use of your collection helps you learn more about your researcher community – who your researchers are, where they are from, and what they are interested in. It may also help you identify potential volunteers or donors.

Retain the researcher registration forms and records retrieval requests (call slips) for at least 50 years. If a suspect in a recent theft is identified, investigators can trace the individual’s research history over decades, perhaps even linking the person with earlier thefts.

Documenting Access

Sound research room procedures result in documentation about your researchers that can be instrumental in following up on security incidents. Consistent use this documentation creates a paper trail which is essential to the recovery process after a theft. Inconsistent use can create reasonable doubt about possible wrongdoing and of your ownership of historical records.

Used properly, the tools mentioned on this page will aid in any investigation and prosecution, and may help prove your organization’s case in court. Even if your organization chooses to refrain from prosecuting a thief, these documents will be necessary in recovering potentially stolen records. Retain these records permanently as theft may not be discovered until years after it occurred.


Require a Registration Form for each individual using your research room.

Sample Researcher Registration Form

Hand out the Research Room Rules and review them with researchers when they register. Post the rules, and related policies and procedures prominently in the research room.

Sample Research Room Rules

Limit What Comes Into the Research Room


  • Laptops without cases
  • Loose-leaf note paper
  • Pencils
  • Necessities/valuables in clear plastic zip-top bag
  • Digital cameras


  • Briefcases, suitcases, computer cases, backpacks, purses
  • Folders
  • Newspapers
  • Coats
  • Umbrellas
  • Pens
  • Cutting implements

Records Retrieval

A Records Retrieval Request, also known as a “call slip,” is completed each time anyone requests access to your historical records. It documents the request, retrieval, and chain of possession until the records are returned to their storage location.

Sample Records Retrieval Request Form

Handling of Material

  • Do not allow researchers to hide themselves or their activities behind boxes or carts
  • Allow only one box open at a time
  • Allow only one box on the table at a time
  • Allow only one folder from the box on table at a time
  • Require that materials be returned to their boxes during lunch or other long breaks


  • Don’t make it more difficult or expensive than necessary. Theft may occur for convenience or cost-savings.
  • Use colored paper for copies
  • Avoid self-service copying

Monitoring the Room

Monitoring researchers

  • Never leave the room unattended
  • Face researchers at all times
  • Don’t be distracted by other tasks
  • Walk the room frequently

Material Return and Exiting

  • Require researchers to stop at reference desk before exiting the research room
  • Examine researchers’ belongings before they leave the room and at facility exit

Use a Log Book to record each entry to and exit from your research area.

Sample Research Room Log Book Page

Suspicious Behavior and Intervention

See Warning Signs to learn about suspicious behaviors. When you see suspicious behavior or believe a researcher may be engaging in theft or mutilation, begin with a “customer service” approach:

  • Provide yourself with an opportunity to better assess the situation. Engage the researcher and offer help. Make eye contact. Provide the researcher with a copy of the rules.
  • If the behavior persists, remind the researcher of the rules and affirm your authority. Quietly let your supervisor know what you have done.
  • If the interaction devolves into confrontation, summon a supervisor to defuse the situation.

Print out a copy of What to Do When… and keep it in a desk drawer in the reference room for staff to refer to during an incident or theft-in-progress.

What to Do When There Is an Incident or a Theft-In-Progress

See Discovering Loss for information about what to do if you suspect a theft has occurred.