Course:5: Access and Outreach
Lesson:Lesson 1: Good Reference and Access Practices
Topic:Mail and Phone References

Mail and Phone References

Many historical records programs get reference requests via mail and telephone, and some also receive requests via email. If your program accepts requests in these ways, there are some additional reference issues you should consider.

Do you need to charge a fee?

Often these requests result in your staff doing research for users who cannot physically get to your repository. In these cases, you may consider charging a research fee to the user. If you do charge for this type of research, make sure that you notify the user what the fee will be, what research you will do, and how long it will take. The researcher should agree to this service arrangement before you actually begin the work.

Are there limits to the level of service you will provide?

Some research requests may be quite straightforward and will require you to pull and provide copies of particular records from your collections. Other research requests can require time-consuming research and analysis. If you handle many requests via mail, phone or email, you may need to consider creating a policy delineating what kinds of research you will and will not provide.

There is an important distinction to be made here. The role of the archivist is to get users to the information they need Ė via finding aids and catalogs, asking good questions, and providing assistance when appropriate to their users.

How much research should you do for people?

Most staff in historical records programs donít have the time and resources to work on research for users. Your role is to facilitate access, and often to provide copies of records people need. You arenít obligated to do their research for them.

If this becomes a problem in your organization, a policy clearly stating what reference services you will and will not perform for your users is helpful.

Mail, telephone, and email--will you accept reference requests from these sources?

House filled with coins
Should you charge?

 Example icon

Check out the Ohio Historical Society's way to handle research questions. Click here.