Library Etiquette

Ok, so we all talk about this after the doors are locked: “Can you believe what that researcher, patron, customer did today?”  We keep the little tales or horror, amazement and confusion to ourselves, but never really bother to discuss them with the public.

I do not mean to offend anyone, but there is proper etiquette to follow in any library, including a research facility.  First, we are not a public library.  You cannot return overdue books to us and you cannot check books out.  While we understand that it is easier for you to do your research in your pajamas (which I do not blame you I know how comfortable my flannels are), they are all collection material and need to be available to anyone and everyone who comes and in and requests them.

The biggest piece of information to remember is to check the institution’s website or call to verify hours of operation.  Institutions tend to shut down periodically for maintenance, catch-up or special events.  It happens.  Occasionally, it happens that when you have been blasting on your website, in your newsletters, on your cable television show and on your Facebook page the fact that you will be closed, and at the same time are helping to prepare for the event, that staff and volunteers will often forget to post a sign on the door.  Hey, we all make mistakes; and in that long checklist of news and publicizing modes sometimes, things are overlooked.  We apologize.  Regardless, please call ahead.

Calling ahead allows you the opportunity to not only verify hours, but to get information on admission fees, research fees, copy fees and check to see if the information you are looking for is available for research.  It also allows the institution to prepare for your visit, brainstorm ideas on collection material that could better assist you, or pull the information from an off-site storage facility.  By giving the institution a heads up, they can make your research experience more efficient and productive.

Websites are excellent tools and often contain a wealth of information, including a little thing called a Conditions of Use.  These are the Rules of any research facility and list the mundane cans and cannot.  Review them before visiting so you are prepared.  No cellphones, bags (of any kind) and coats allowed.  No pens allowed, only pencils.  No photography permitted; this is especially important.  You cannot take pictures of document, we will notice if you use your cellphones and we really are not concerned what other institutions might, or might not, allow you to do.  Copy fees exist to help with preservation of material and maintenance of the copier.  The Conditions of Use are there to help protect the collections and accessibility to those collections, not to make life harder on the researcher.  They are also standard throughout archives, so something that is prohibited in the Henry Janssen Library, is probably not allowed at the National Archives and vice-verse.  Rules are Rules.  Arguing over those rules will not ingratiate you to the people, who will now have to assist you during your visit.  Trust us, we understand, but they are official institutional policies and we will enforce them.

When visiting an institution with a specific mission, such as the Historical Society of Berks County, please be aware that the focus of their research facility (the Henry Janssen Library) is Berks County.  We do have some early records for surrounding counties, but only while they were considered part of Berks County.  Once a new county formed, new records generated will be in that county and we will not have access to them.  We do not have access to records in Philadelphia.  We are solely responsible for Berks County.  If you start hitting a wall with your research, we can help you figure out which county the records might be in, but we cannot produce those records.  In addition, if you are looking for Official Court Documents, such as Wills and Deeds, those will be at the Courthouse.  We cannot produce Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates or Death Certificates.  Those, you will need to request directly from the State. PLEASE NOTE that Vital Statistics were not officially kept in the Commonwealth until 1902.  Anything before 1902 and you will need church records, cemetery records, obituaries, or newspaper articles to verify that information.  Links to the Register of Wills, Recorder of Deeds and the Department of Health are on our website to assist you.

We do not have noise restrictions here at the HJL.  We have found that collaboration between researchers and researchers and researchers and staff is often beneficial.  So, talk and share your work…but be mindful of other people.

I hope this has been somewhat helpful.  I will eventually get into research and asking for assistance.  Remember, if you have any questions, please call, it is what we are here to do.  Happy Researching!


One thought on “Library Etiquette

  1. People definitely need to realize that just because such-and-such was true at one institution, it may or may not be the same at another. Every archival institution may have a slightly different set of rules from another. I mean, there is a general bunch of possible options that most archives will draw from (e.g., the gloves or no gloves debate is a good example; or the extent of your collecting policy)…but each individual archives has probably chosen a slightly different subset of those general options, and researchers need to understand that just because the County Courthouse let them do one thing and the Public Library let them do thus-and-such, doesn’t mean that the same will be true at the next place they go.

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