A big part of the work of an archives is to be the custodians or guardians of the records they hold. Because most records are original and one-of-a kind, there are special conditions that apply when you want to do research there.
Here they are – in a nutshell.
You almost always have to register as a user, indicating the your research subject and intention. Once registered, on each subsequent visit, you’ll need to sign in, and then, for every item you want to see, fill out a document request form.
Generally you’ll only be given one document at a time at to look at.
You’ll often be asked to leave most of your belongings outside the reference room including purses, backpacks, coats. There are usually lockers for you to keep your things in – sometimes they’ll give you a token to use or sometimes you’ll need coins. Generally, you are only permitted to bring paper and pencil, or a laptop making notes, and now – usually – a cell phone.
Sometimes you are given instructions on the care and handling of the document you’re going to look at, like supporting weak bindings or fragile pages. And keeping things in their original order. Sometimes you’re given a pair of gloves to wear or a couple of beanbags to hold documents flat.