National Archives at College Park

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This is the central repository of U.S. federal government department records, notably those of the State Department.

Contents

Orientation

Coordinates

Address

8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001

Website

http://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/college-park/

Telephone

301-837-2000, or Customer Service Center: 1-866-272-6272

Fax

Email

Contact via this link.


In addition, when conducting searches through ARC, the National Archives' online catalog system, most hits include a specialized "contact" link.

Schedule & hours

Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

(These hour changes came into effect in April 2008: http://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/college-park/#hours)

Working language(s)

English

Layout

The entrance to the archive, its security desk, registration, and cafeteria are on the ground floor. Lockers are in the basement, and the textual records reading room is on the second floor. Other record reading rooms - such as photographic, film, and cartographic divisions - are on upper floors. The textual records reading room contains a few computer terminals, as well as a glassed-in room containing catalogues. More detailed catalogues can be had in archivists' offices (2600 for the State Department) to the north of the reading room (an escort is required). The microfilm reading room is on the third floor. Most storerooms are on-site.

Directions

Public transportation and driving directions can be found here. Public transport access is functional, but less than convenient. A free shuttle bus from the National Archives in DC can be convenient, if you are staying near downtown.

If you are taking the shuttle bus from the DC National Archives: Get off at the Archives-Navy Memorial metro stop. At the top of the metro escalator, turn left. You will see the DC National Archives straight in front of you, across the large street.

Turn left again and head east along the large street until you get to the corner on the east side of the archives. Cross the street (heading south) so that you are on the same block as the archives building.

The shuttle stop will be right there, on the northeast side of the National Archives building block. It is not well marked, but if you get there close to shuttle departure time, there will be other individuals waiting.

Note: the shuttle does not seem to have extended hours even though the College Park facility now is open until 9 pm Wednesday through Friday.

Holdings

Description of holdings

(a more extensive description (qualitative and/or quantitative) of the holdings and the state in which they are kept)

That's a great question and I would love to see someone write a good answer to that. The National Archives have so much stuff that far exceeds a generalization. It's really a giant supermarket of an archive. Even if you think you've seen everything, you may find new stuff the next time you're there. Everything that had something to do with the government at some point is there - and much more.

However, whatever is the topic of your research, you are bound to to find endless amount of documents about expenses and allowences. Every damn penny in the history of america is documented to the bitter end.

The state of the documents may also vary between the excellent and the terrible.

History of the archive

Materials were moved to the new College Park building in the early 1990s.

Please also note that Archives I, the main archives building in Washington, DC, also maintains some materials - particularly legislative documents.

Catalogues & finding aids

Finding aids at the College Park archives tend to be primitive: shelf after shelf of second-generation photocopied lists, many offering only general descriptions of holdings. It is almost always necessary to enlist an archivist or two in order to cover the bases, and many of the archivists are very helpful. A breakdown of holdings by Record Group and size is here. The National Archives is beginning to experiment with an online catalogue called the Archival Research Catalog (ARC).

Despite the magnificence of the facility in College Park, the catalogue is still manual. The online catalogue that exists on the National Archives website is not a real catalogue, but a general list of the finding aids. The finding aids themselves required a bit of learning but they are generally clear, detailed and helpful - but that's not always the case. Depending on the documents you wish to review, you may find that some of the manual catalogues are not very helpful to say the least. However, the staff of archivists is extremely helpful and they will go out of their way to help you, even when it is obvious that they are embarrassed themselves by the lacunae of the catalogues.

Languages of materials

English, with some foreign languages in State Department records

Restrictions & difficulties

Classified material

Inaccessible material

Cataloguing is inconsistent, so it can be difficult to ascertain the state of collections. Archivists have been known to escort researchers into the stacks in order to look for obscure material.

Future of the archive

(what direction is the archive going? what rumours have you heard?)

Research procedures

Access

A passport or other official document will win you access, and you can register on the spot. Be prepared for a lot of security hassles, procedures etc. Here's a list from my memory:

1) When you enter the building you will be asked to register all your electronic equipment: computers, cameras, camcorders, tape recorders, etc.

2) There's a whole procedure of "familiarization" the first time you arrive, including an issuance of a "researcher card". They will take your picture there, so make sure you look pretty ...

3) You are not allowed to take inside bags, computer bags, covers for the camera, etc. Everything has to be out in the open, although you could put things in transparent bags. That's where the research carts come in handy. There are many of them roaming about in the lockers area (bring a quarter ...), and that's another reason to come early to the archives: by 10-10:30 there are no more carts and you will have to carry everything in your hands!

4) Hold on to your researcher card, you will be asked to show it again and again, so just keep it in your pocket or something.

5) If you're dealing with documents that were once classified you will have to go to another counter and get "de-classified" sticker or something. They'll tell you what to do - and someone will keep passing by your seat to check that you're doing it the right way. This is really a ridiculous procedure for purely bureaucratic reasons. The really classified stuff is not in the boxes at all, it has been pulled out and you will only find a paper that will tell you that something has been pulled out of the box. You could, however, apply to get those documents.

6) They don't allow jackets with zippers inside nor hats. It's quite ok inside mostly, but if you suffer in an air-conditioned environment you should bring a sweater.

First visit

After you pass a series of security protocols, you register and receive a reader's card, with which you can enter the reading rooms. Go to the basement to store your bags, then head in.

Permitted and prohibited items

  • Permitted: laptop computers, cameras, certain scanners (details)
  • Prohibited: ink pens and sticky notes
  • Also allowed, from observations in June: iPods

You can bring in SOME select books - namely, National Archives Publications (see the Cashier's Desk on the first floor to see what these are - they have to be appropriately stamped by the staff). You can also bring in approved outside papers - IE, if you have a piece of paper that lists the things you want to find: just take it into the first floor registration room and they'll stamp it for you so you can take it in.

Document ordering

You will have to fill up a form for every box you wish to review, and this is a bit of an annoying task. When ordering documents, you must give two kinds of information. The first kind, a description and identification number, is straightforward enough. The second kind, description of where the material is located in the storage room, is less transparent. This information is expressed by a series of numbers and slashes, in this form: Record Group (RG)/Row/Compartment/Shelf/Box or Volume. "Row" is the name for the big sliding shelf unit in the stacks. Each column within a Row is called a "Compartment." Each Compartment contains five or six shelves, and the workers appreciate it if you can specify the shelf number. Then on the shelf are the boxes or volumes arranged in numeric order. So the whole line of numbers above the “record identification” box on the order slips serves to help them get to the right shelf. They then depend on the material in the record id.

In addition to that, another crucial number is the accession number that for some reason helps the archivist even more to locate your material.

Ordering classified material

You'll have to fill out a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for classified materials. Talk to staff members to learn mroe about this process.

Document delivery

  • Records are pulled four times per day (10 and 11 a.m., 1:30 and 2:30 p.m., with a 3:30 pull Wednesday through Friday. There are NO PULLS on Saturdays); submit your orders by beforehand. Also, some collections - such as some classified materials and Nixon materials - have more limited pull times; see an archivist for details.
  • There is always a period of time that is wasted between one's arrival to an archive and the actual beginning of the work. Be prepared that in the National Archives this could be a few good hours. If this is your first time in the archives, even if you arrive at 9am when they open the doors, it is unlikely that you will open your first box of documents before noon, and most likely even later than that. So just plan ahead, be patient and enjoy the ride. Once you get over the "learning curve" things will go much more smoothly. If you're not finished with your work, they will hold your boxes out for three days, and the next time you arrive there you could start working immediately.

It takes approximately one hour (sometimes less) for documents to arrive. In the textual reading room, staff members log items as they arrive; check the notebook on the left side of the Circulation Desk (in the center of the room, near Research Assistance). Once your items have arrived, show your card to the staff members. You'll be asked to sign the pink copy of the request form, and to date, time, and initial the back.

All textual records materials arrive at the Circulation Desk at the center of the room, and you can have no more than one cart (24 boxes maximum) at your desk at one time. When you are finished, return the cart to Circulation. You will be asked whether you'd like those to be held or refiled.

The speed of document delivery depends on the amount of "pull requests" they have. the early "pull" of 10am is usually a smaller one so it could take as little as 15 minutes, but more likely it will be closer to 30 minutes. Of course, unless you've been to the archives before and know exactly what you need without looking for it in the manual finding aids you are unlikely to make it for this pull. By the afternoon the place is more crowded and the amount of requests is larger. Accordingly, you may find yourself waiting for almost an hour if not more.

The delivery is from a desk in the reading room itself - no running around the building (which wouldn't fly with the crazy security codes anyway ...). They deliver all the boxes in a big comfortable trolley cart - so that's not a problem at all. There is a limit on how many you can take - no more than two carts retrieved at any time (they'll keep one in the back for you). In any case, you can only work on one folder from one box every time. The rest of the box/es should stay on the cartwheel, and you need to put a sort of a giant bookmark they give you to mark the place of the folder in the box (yes! only the boxes are numbered! the folders have only names). Once in a while someone will pass behind you to check if you're doing everything according to the procedure.

Photocopying, photography, microfilming

(what are costs, permits, and page limits? how long do you have to wait?) The Archives II facility at College Park is particularly friendly to digital cameras and scanners, though you need to get a permit each day. A great many researchers have tripods at their tables, and I've been able to photograph hundreds of pages in a sitting. It's much faster and cheaper than making photocopies.

== I second that! Bring your cameras, tripods, extra batteries and battery chargers. Every time I'm there I see a new kind of tripod that I wish I had. The best ones, I guess, are the ones in which the pole where the camera is attached can be inserted upside down into the tripod in a way that allows you to have the camera completely horizontal over the documents that you can neatly place between the legs of the tripod.

IN ADDITION, however: some circulation staff will let you know about getting photograph/scanning permission, but not all of them will mention this. Here is the procedure:

1. When you get your items from circulation, take them to your desk. 2. Take ONE of the boxes to one of the two copy desks in the room. Explain that you have scanner/camera (as applicable). 3. Staff will give you a slip to hang from your lamp, and, depending on the materials, a "declassified" tag that you must include in ever photo or scan for declassified materials. 4. Return both slips of paper when you leave; get a new one each day.

Be sure to check in for each new collection you get! Otherwise, I've seen staff make researchers delete photos from their cameras if they didn't have the proper papers.

Key forms

(what are the main forms that the archive uses? if possible, provide links to copies or post copies directly)

Key individuals

Archive staff

In the main research room, where you order documents, Ed is the guy who knows what he’s doing. Sally Kuisel, the #2 state department archivist, is well informed.

Scholars

(scholars who are familiar with this archive)

Bibliography

(published works based on research at this archive)

Practicalities

Food

The on-site cafeteria will, in concert with the security protocols, supplement the education of foreign researchers into things American. Microwaves and vending machines also available. The archives are rather isolated from other sources of food.

The place is sort of secluded and there aren't really close-by places to eat, so you'll have to rely on the cafe. Note that it is only open for lunch and close quite early (I think by 2pm). After that you'll have to rely on the vending machines or the little canteen. The cafe is quite nice; they have a large variety of choices, including a salad bar, make-your-own-sandwich bar, a grill area etc. The prices are reasonable, but if you're really short on the budget consider bringing your food with you. There's a 7-11 about 15 minutes walk from the archive, but your time is short and you don't want to waste it on 7-11 expeditions.

Lockers

Lockers are in the basement. You must have a quarter with you in order to get the locker to work properly: you insert it in the door, then close the door and turn the key to lock it (you take the key with you). When you return to open the locker, you'll get your quarter back.

Washrooms

Transportation

You can get to the National Archives by public transportation, by shuttle bus, or by car.

Car: If you can take your car to Archives II then - by all means - do it. They have tons of free parking there. They always say that parking is limited, but I have yet to be there on a day when there was no parking at all. In any case, here's another reason to get there early.

Shuttle bus: The shuttle bus (which has been originally set up for staff) that runs between the National Archives I and II is a very convenient way to get to and from the Archives. The shuttle bus leaves the National Archives building I every hour, on the hour, and also leaves the NA II every hour, on the hour. The only problem is that the bus only runs between 9 and 5. If you are taking the shuttle bus from the DC National Archives: Get off at the Archives-Navy Memorial metro stop. At the top of the metro escalator, turn left. You will see the DC National Archives straight in front of you, across the large street.

Turn left again and head east along the large street until you get to the corner on the east side of the archives. Cross the street (heading south) so that you are on the same block as the archives building.

The shuttle stop will be right there, on the northeast side of the National Archives building block. It is not well marked, but if you get there close to shuttle departure time, there will be other individuals waiting.

There is also a researchers only shuttle bus, which runs on Saturdays and which departs from the Prince George's Plaza Metro station every hour.

Note: the shuttle does not seem to have extended hours even though the College Park facility now is open until 9 pm Wednesday through Friday.

Public transportation: You can also get to the NA II by public transportation. You can take either one of two buses, which take you to the metro. If you stay there beyond 5 pm, and if you came from DC, you will have to take public transportation back to the metro, since the shuttle bus only runs until 5 pm. The most convenient bus is the R 3, which will bring you to the green line (Greenbelt, Prince George's Plaza, or Ft. Totten). If you coordinate it well, the R 3 is very convenient and only takes 10 minutes to get from NARA II to PG Plaza. The R 3 bus stop is almost directly in front of the NARA II building, and you can get the schedule online at: (http://www.wmata.com/timetables/md/R3.pdf). The other bus is the C-8, which will bring you to the red line (White Flint, Glenmont, College Park). The C 3 bus stop is down the road -- you will have to walk a bit to get there. The C8 schedule is also online at: http://www.wmata.com/timetables/md/c8.pdf

Internet access

There's no wi-fi for researchers, but the main reading room does have some computers with Internet access, which is helpful if you need to look up something quickly. There is also a public computer with internet access in the microfilm reading room on the 4th floor.

Funding

Bookstore

There is a small bookstore on-site, selling certain catalogues and archive-related materials.

See also

(links to relevant websites and resources)

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