Out with the Old
Image source: joshuafkitchens

Out with the Old

Learning Objectives

  • Students will apply an understanding of best practices for archival reference work to the scenario and make decisions based on their understanding of best practices.
  • Students will develop appropriate policies for the given scenarios based on best practices for an archival organization.


You work for an archival organization that has a staff of ten archivist. Your organization has never had a staff dedicated to reference, and most of the long-term staff has retired in the last six months. Because of this, the current staff, including the administration, isn’t able to determine why there was never a formal reference group within the archives. You’ve had some training in reference and you’ve been assigned to create a proposal for forming a formal reference group for your organization.

Most of the staff don’t have training in reference work, with many having skills that support processing more than reference. All staff have worked reference at some point, so everyone will have some experience with the issues involved with reference work. Two archivist in your organization despise working reference and the public in general.

As far as you know, there are no formal polices or procedures for how a reference interaction should occur, how requests are tracked, and how users are engaged with in the reading room. The organization did have pull slips that were created 15 years ago, but that’s all you’ve been able to discover. The pull slips are not well loved, but this is the only formal procedure your organization has for reference work.

Questions and Application

  • Create access/reference room policies for this institution. Think about:
    • How many staff should be assigned to reference?
    • What type of policies and procedures do you wish to create?
    • How will you implement these?
    • Do you need to institute training for staff that have been assigned to reference?
  • After creating these policies, apply them to them to the follow situations.
    • A user wishes to use a camera to copy records from a collection that you do not own the copyright for.
    • A user comes into the archive unprepared for research. They have a vague idea of the subject, but don’t know which material that they would like to work with.
    • The reference staff is busy with other activities in the archives, and the other staff need to help out. How will you setup backups for the reference staff.
    • You recieve a request for information via email. One of the staff who isn’t a part of the reference group has expertise in this area.
    • You need to decide how to approach reference work online and decide which tools you will use to answer online reference questions. Based on your policies and procedures, what platforms would you use for engaging with uses online to conduct reference interactions.


ALA, SAA. “ALA-SAA Joint Statement of Access: Guidelines for Access to Original Research Materials (August 1994, revised 2009).” 2009.

Joshua Kitchens

Joshua Kitchens
Joshua Kitchens is an archivist, historian and beer lover. Josh is currently the Director of the Archival Studies Program at Clayton State University.