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National Archives and Records Administration

Page history last edited by Wes Ullrich 12 years, 4 months ago

Date of tip: 28 May 2005

Source: Tanya Harmer (t.harmer@lse.ac.uk)

Updated: June 2011 by Wes Ullrich (w.ullrich@lse.ac.uk)


Location: National Archives II, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, Maryland, 20740 6001, USA. 


How to get there (From Washington DC): The easiest way to get to and from the archives from Washington DC is to catch the free shuttle bus that runs from the downtown National Archives (Metro stop: Archives). The bus leaves from the corner of 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue every hour, on the hour between 8am and 5pm (Monday to Friday) and takes about 40 minutes. If you stay later than 5pm on the days the archives are open until 9pm you will have to take the R3 metro bus to Prince George’s Plaza or Greenbelt (Prince George’s Plaza is the closes). This is not a frequent service so it is well worth downloading the timetable from the archive’s website (see below) or picking up a timetable at the archives and make sure you have the correct bus fare ($1.25) as you will not be given change. On Saturday there is free shuttle from the Prince George’s Plaza metro stop at quarter past the hour every hour. (When you arrive at the metro, turn left at the top of the escalators and wait by the taxi rank). It leaves the archives and returns to at quarter to the hour apart from the last bus that leaves at 5.15pm. 


Language: English 


Getting started: There are no formal procedures to complete before going to the archives although once you arrive you will need to register and get a reader’s ticket. For this you will need a photo ID (I recommend you take your passport or driving license). Before you go to the archives you may want to contact NARA to enquire what records they have available that relate to your topic. This is particularly important if you are dealing with files from the early-mid 1970s as many of these are in the process of being declassified and may not be automatically ready when you arrive. In my case, because I contacted them before I went, they were able to speed up the process for some of the files I wanted so I could consult them. To search for files, there are finding aids in a small room inside the main reading room that you can consult whilst you are there and I suggest that you speak to an archivist on your first day as they will be able to tell you more about the finding aids, collections and the ordering process. The staff are very friendly and helpful but each of them has their own speciality so it may be worth asking a selection of archivists as they may point you in helpfully different directions. Additionally, you may wish to speak to other archivists with specialities in certain areas (for example, military or state) outside the main reading room but to see them you will need to get a badge from the finding aids room and be escorted to the archivists offices by one of the staff on duty in the reading room. These specialists may be able to help you decipher the finding aids (which in some cases are completely baffling). However, they may not be able to give you the answers you require based on the recent increasing complexities of the declassification process in the USA and the difficulties they themselves have in pinpointing where documents have ended up. 


Opening Hours: 8.45am-5pm (Monday and Wednesday), 8.45am- 9pm (Tuesday, Thursday and Friday), 8.45-4.45 (Saturday)


General working conditions: All researchers will need to store their belongings in a locker on the basement level before they are able to enter the main archive area. (Each locker costs a quarter). Once inside, you will find a spacious reading room for consulting textual materials (2nd Floor) a library (3rd Floor) and an audiovisual library (4th Floor). There is also a microfilm reading room but I am not familiar with its facilities.


Consultation: You can order and have 2 carts on hold at any one time though any order of 3 boxes or less is often not counted as a cart and you may be allowed a third order at the discretion of the staff on duty. As long as you have not already got 2 carts then you can order boxes at one of the ‘pull times’. These are Monday - Friday, 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. Please note that you cannot order anything on Saturday so you will need to order materials on Friday if you wish to work on them on Saturday. The boxes normally take between 30 minutes and an hour to arrive at the reading room and you can check if your records are in the reading room by consulting a log book at the information desk at the back of the room. 


Policy on technology: Laptops, scanners and digital cameras are allowed but you will need to get a property pass that must be shown before you can take them in and out of the reading room. This can be obtained from the main desk as you enter the building. To use your scanner or camera you will need to have your records checked at the information desk by the windows. If you wish to photograph/scan any confidential/secret documents you will be given a declassifications sticker that you will need to place on each document that you copy. This sticker has to be signed out and signed back in at the end of the day. If you have a camera you will need an additional piece of paper that you have to stick above/on your desk. All these rules may seem complicated but they are pretty straight forward once you get there! 


Photocopy policy: There are a number of self-service photocopying machines in the main reading room. You can use the short-term machines whenever you like but at busy times your time on them will be limited to 5 minutes. Alternatively you can book one of the other machines for an hour at a time. If the documents are confidential/secret you will need a declassification sticker. (See above). The cost of photocopying is 5 cents a page.  


Particularities: There are numerous rules at the National Archives to get used to! You are allowed to take notes/paper into the reading room but these must be checked and stamped before you go into the reading room. Once you are in the reading room you need to have your card swiped. You are not allowed to wear sweaters/cardigans with a zip. You cannot wear scarves of any kind. No cases for cameras or laptops are allowed. On a positive note, there is a good cafeteria and shop at the archives that are open Monday to Friday. The cafeteria is reasonably priced and has a salad bar, sandwich selection, hot food counter, grill section and more. It is open for breakfast and closes at 2.30 Monday-Fridays. On Saturday the only food available at the archives is snack food from the vending machines so it is wise to take something with you! 


How to apply for classified files: To order any files/boxes you need to fill in one of the order forms that can be found in the room with the finding aids. An archivist will show you how to fill in this form although once you have figured the system out, the finding aids should be able to tell you all the information you need. Once it is filled in, place it in the tray in the same room. Within the boxes you will probably come across the odd ‘withdrawal’ sheet where a document has not been declassified for ‘national security’ reasons. You can file a FOIA for these documents by filling in a form that can be found in the room with finding aids. It is worth filling these in but there are no assurances you’ll ever get the documents and the review process could take months or years.  


Contact name in case of questions regarding classified files: Staff at NARA can be contacted via an inquiry form on their website: http://www.archives.gov/global_pages/inquire_form.html Alternatively, I found that Marvin Russell was especially helpful with regards to the declassification of State Department files (marvin.russell@nara.gov). 


Places to stay: I recommend staying in Washington. It may seem like a long way to the archives but the shuttle bus makes it very easy to get out to College Park and the city is far far nicer than the suburbs of College Park! If you are staying in Washington, the Hostel International is centrally located (11th and K streets) and costs $35 a night for a shared room. For information about places to stay in College Park, see the NARA website (http://www.uga.umd.edu/visit/hotel.html).

Another option close to the Archives in College Park is Follin's Guest House. Kim (the owner) is very friendly and accommodating. She offers weekly rates, and the longer you stay, the cheaper the nightly rate gets. I paid about $300 for 6 nights. She is booked months ahead though, so its best to call well in advance: +1 301-277-9633. She also only accepts cash. 

More accommodation info can be found here: http://www.cscamm.umd.edu/visitors/housing.htm




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