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There are several basic things you want to make yourself aware of prior to your visit. Always check for hours specific to the branch or department you are visiting. It is not unusual for the hours of special collections to be different than the hours of the building in which they are housed. LH/SC Branch hours can be located here.

Always check if the repository prefers researchers to make an appointment. Depending on your research needs, you may want dedicated time with a reference librarian or archivist to map out a research strategy. Even if you don’t need an appointment, it doesn’t hurt to let staff know about your research topic and if you have any ADA-compliance needs prior to your visit. We can also take the opportunity to tell you if there are any parking issues or group visits which may impact when you decide to visit.

Remember your government-issued photo id. It should show your current address. Due to the unique nature of materials in the LH/SC Branch, we do examine and verify key information from your id as a precaution. We cannot allow access archival material without a photo id.

Know the organizations policies. The Alexandria Library has a Code of Behavior. The LH/SC Branch does not allow food or drink in its spaces. Even if you only want access to the Wi-Fi, understand you still cannot bring food or drink into the space. The policy is in place to make sure we do not have a rodent or insect problem which could damage rare and unique materials. You will also be expected to utilize the lockers if you are working with rare materials. Your belongings must go in a locker, with the exception of your laptop. We do have the authority per library policy to enforce bag searches if we have concerns as noted in the Code of Behavior. Please place cell phones on vibrate. If you take cell phone photos of any materials in our holdings, any use should comply with copyright law.

If you are using rare or unique materials, we ask that you use pencil to take notes so that no damage occurs to the document. Conservation treatment can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, so we prefer to avoid the possibility of accidents.

Research Process

Reference questions are divided into four types: directional, ready reference, specific search, and research. By understanding what type of question you are asking, you will have a better idea of how to manage your time and expectations. Here are definitions for each of the categories.

  • Directional questions are requests for information on the where or what of something.
    • What are your hours? or Where is the restroom?
    • These questions involve short, quick answers.
  • Ready reference questions are answerable by using one or two reference tools or by showing you how to do something.
    • How do I print? or When was John Quincy president?
    • These questions can vary in the length of time needed but generally do not last more than 10 minutes.
  • Specific search questions focus on what are the best resources on a specific topic.
    • I’m writing a paper on George Washington, what should I use? or I’m looking for information on 1950s automobiles for a restoration project, do you have any information?
    • Assistance with these questions will involve being shown where the resources are as well as receiving a brief orientation if the reference work is complex to access.
  • Research questions depend on what can be found, involve browsing as well as trial and error, and may incorporate primary source research.
    • I’m interested in tracing the parents of my great great grandmother who immigrated in 1892, how should I do that? or I’m trying to understand the development of Flounder Houses in Alexandria around 1799, what do you recommend?
    • These questions involve extensive time on the part of the customer. We can guide you but we cannot do the heavy lifting for your research question.

The Reference Interview

When you come to LH/SC with a question be prepared to tell us what you hope to accomplish. Someone writing a graduate thesis is going to have different needs than someone writing a five page report. A realtor looking for house photos will have different needs than a City archaeologist looking at the same images. Let us know who you are and why you are doing research. When you come into a specialized collection like LH/SC there’s an expectation that you will already be grounded in the basics of your research topic. If you are researching your family history, select one person at a time to look up. Unless you are completely new to genealogical research, organize your research notes. The charts here will greatly help you with your research.

Research Notes

Citations are essential. No one can check your research if you do not cite your sources correctly. Submitting requests for LH/SC staff to track down documents or images without a citation cannot be answered rapidly. Keep good research notes.

Descriptive information is also necessary for electronic files. Embed metadata (keywords, collection numbers, and item identification information) into image files whenever you can. If you submit an Image Request form to LH/SC staff, any images you receive will have the metadata embedded in the file. If you are taking pictures with your cell phone, check into adding metadata to the image files yourself. It will provide you with an additional way to search your phone or computer for the images.

If you have any questions about research etiquette, feel free to send us an email