Usually if you have a letter from the University Registrar (stamped – make sure it is stamped) that has your position or degree enrollment (it says you are a PhD student, lecturer, assistant professor etc) and also has your home address on it, as well as a passport or drivers licence this should be sufficient. This is what you will need for the British library and Cambridge University Libraries. For the Harry Ransome Center, National Library of Scotland, National Library of Australia, National Archives of Australia a student card is sufficient. In other words check before you go – you may be able to apply before you arrive; if you can, DO IT! or at least try and make an appointment with those that process your application for access – it will save you time. And Time is Research people!
2. Lockers/Cloak Room
Be aware that almost all major Research Liobraries and Archives have rules about what you can take into the Reading Rooms. Many have lockers or cloak rooms to take care of laptop bags, handbags, coats etc. Keep a $1 or 1 pound coin on hand – this is often the deposit needed (though i’ve seen some that take 20p or 50c pieces too).
3. Work out what you need and take only what you really need
Prior Preparation saves serious time and stress. Take a bag by all means but also take a clear plastic bag (and a couple of ziploc bags) to put your laptop, cords, mobile/cell, pencils, sharpener, eraser, paper, readers card and change. Try not to take large amounts of material unrelated to the present research question into the reading room – that chapter you’ve been working on might be good fodder for the train ride but do you really need it in the room? It still might be helpful to have a one page outline of your project to remind yourself or to share with that reference librarians or to the other researchers you get chatting to in the coffee shop.
c) readers card
Even if you cannot preorder, you really really need to pre-search! In fact, you shouldn’t even plan a trip to a research library or archive unless you have pre-searched their catalogue to make sure that you really need to go. If there is only a couple of items, consider whether your resources are better spent somewhere else. Ask the library if they will copy the relevant section, find out if you can do an inter-library loan of the item, or search WORLDCAT or COPAC to see if you can obtain the resource from another source.
This post is part of the The Basics series which deals with general advice research and scholarship.
image: Microsoft clip art
Anna Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD student in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland.