primary sources at yale
top left image Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are primary sources always in “special collections”?

No, primary sources can be found in all of Yale's collections, but certain collections at Yale are devoted to acquiring and providing access to primary sources. These so-called “special collections” often have different hours and policies than regular collections so this set of questions has been developed to help researchers know what to expect. Special collections at Yale University contain materials that, because of subject, source, rarity or form, are thematically grouped to support in-depth research. They complement the University’s general collections by providing primary source materials in an extraordinary variety of formats, ranging from cuneiform tablets to digital photographs, documenting the unique history of cultures and individuals.

The books, papers, correspondence, photographs, and works of art within special collections are considered to have lasting research value. To ensure that these collections remain available to future users, collection managers provide special housing for fragile items, monitor the temperature and humidity of the physical environment, and enforce policies that maintain collection security and prescribe how materials can be handled or photocopied.

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2. Who may use special collections at Yale?

Special collections are open to all members of the Yale community and usually to outside researchers. Credentials such as photo-identification may be needed for admittance. Letters of introduction or other documentation concerning projects may be useful but are not required. Notice in advance is always helpful in planning visits or appointments and is essential for service in many collections.

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3. When can I expect to use the materials in special collections?

Most special collections at Yale are open weekdays, not evenings and weekends. Check with the individual collections for specific hours and appointment requirements. If you require in-depth reference assistance or wish to confirm the accessibility of material, it is a good idea to write or phone in advance.

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4. How do I find out what is in a collection?

The contents of special collections are described in a variety of ways. Click here for tips on locating materials.

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5. What kind of reference support or research assistance do special collections provide?

Knowledgeable archivists and curators are available for consultation about research topics and strategies. Researchers often find it useful to meet in person with an archivist or curator, having made an appointment in advance. The different special collections at Yale have varying policies regarding response to email, mail, or telephone reference inquiries. Many repositories can devote a limited amount of time to answering such requests, depending on the nature of the inquiry.

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6. How quickly can I expect to have specific materials retrieved for use?

Many special collections at Yale have materials that can be used the same day; speed of retrieval of these items ranges from immediate service to several hours. Some special collections make use of off-site storage. Retrieval of off-site materials requires advance notice. Check with each individual collection about its procedures. In order to best ensure access, call ahead and discuss your needs.

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7. How can I get a copy or reproduction of something?

Permission is required to duplicate materials in special collections. Whether copies can be made depends on the age, size, and condition of the item(s). Since policies vary, researchers should discuss their needs directly with the staff of the appropriate repository. At times, microfilming will be required as an alternative to photocopying. The staff will discuss with the researcher the process involved and the costs the researcher will incur.

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8. I'm interested in donating materials to a special collection at Yale. Whom should I contact?

You should get in touch with the librarian or curator who is responsible for selecting materials in the appropriate subject area. A directory of selectors is available at http://resources.library.yale.edu/online/selectors.asp.

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9. I would like to recommend something for purchase by a Yale special collection. Whom should I contact?

You should get in touch with the librarian or curator who is responsible for selecting materials in the appropriate subject area. A directory of selectors is available at http://resources.library.yale.edu/online/selectors.asp.

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10. Can Yale librarians and curators tell me what my books (or manuscripts, photos, etc.) are worth?

University policy prohibits librarians and curators from providing financial appraisals, but the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) maintains a “Collector's Corner” site on the World Wide Web at http://abaa.org/collectors/index.html that discusses the evaluation of books, manuscripts and other material. The site includes links to booksellers who offer appraisal services.

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