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Research Using Primary Sources

This guide will clarify how to locate, access, and use primary sources, particularly at the University of Maryland.

What to expect your first visit

Many special collections and archives are accessible in a separate room from the rest of the library. These rooms are often small allowing for a researchers to work closely with a reference librarian. Below are some general guidelines you can use to prepare for your first visit. These rules may vary between institutions.

What to bring

  • Photo ID
  • Pencil, paper, laptop
  • Camera
  • USB drive

Checking In

You will need to leave any bags (including laptop cases), pens, jackets and food or drink outside the reading room. You might be given access to a private locker or cubby and may need to sign-in. 

Handling and Using Material


  • You may be limited to using just a few books at a time. 
  • If the book is fragile, you may also be given a book cradle, which supports both covers of the book. 
  • Usually, you will not use gloves with books, but be sure your hands are clean and dry before handling material. 


  • You will be given one box at a time.
  • Take out one folder at a time.
  • Use a place marker to keep folders in order.
  • Lay folders flat on the table. 
  • Turn papers carefully and keep all pages in order. 
  • Remove plastic clips or paper clips carefully and replace them when you are done.

Maps, Microfilm, Microfiche, Photographs

  • Keep maps flat on the table with no edges hanging over.
  • Use the microfilm and microfiche readers under guidance of librarian.
  • Use gloves to handle photographs as the oils on our skin can damage photographs.

Taking Pictures

Many reading rooms will allow you to use your phone or a camera as long as you do not use flash.