[quote="Rolltide, post:10, topic:255935"]
I work as a professional historian, and the Vatican Library, the Vatican Secret Archives, and the other Vatican collections work basically the same as most other national archives. I've worked in both the US National Archives, the Spanish National Archives, and the Archive of the Royal Palace of Spain in Madrid, so I'm quite familiar with the process of getting in. Here's basically how it works.
1) Because of the delicate condition and sensitive nature of many of these documents, access to these archives is restricted to researches and other people with a legitimate need to see the originals. So, you must obtain permission to enter an archive. In the US, this is usually just a simple check of your background credentials by the government. In foreign countries, you usually need a photocopy of your highest degree, proof of your employment as a researcher, and a "Letter of Introduction", usually from your boss, confirming who you are and what you do. You will then be notified if you are given permission to use the archive.
2) If permission comes (and in most cases, it will), you will need to bring your documentation and enter the archive. You must place everything you carry with you into a locker outside the main research area. The ONLY things you may bring with you are a laptop, and possibly a digital camera. If you need to take notes, plain paper and pencils will be provided for you by the archive inside. You will also be given white gloves to protect your hands when handling the documents.
3) Generally, your access will be VERY tightly controlled, no matter what archive you are in. You will be taken to a reading room where the index of the archive is located. The first thing you need to do is search the index to find any materials that might be relevant. Then, you submit a written request for those materials... and go home for the day. Archives are not like regular libraries. Often times, the materials won't even be on site, but in a building or warehouse in some other part of town. A professional archivist will walk or drive over there, spend the afternoon pulling your materials, and the next day when you return to the reading room, a nice little cart with your materials will be waiting. You may request as many materials as you like. A good researcher will hunt for almost everything on the first day so that you won't spend any more time waiting for items to be pulled that you forgot. Since there won't be many people in the reading room, the cart with your materials will stay in place when the archive closes, and be waiting for you when you return in the morning, every day until you are complete.
4) If you need a photocopy or photocopies of a document, you must place an order and have a special archivist do it. (There's a form for that, too.) While photocopies are often good, many archives will allow a digital camera and a computer now, because a camera shot from above won't do any damage to a book, whereas flipping it over and copying it might, if it's delicate.
5) Like all archives, a lot of material will be unsorted. This can get frustrating. Sometimes, you'll learn that there's a collection of papers, and the index will simply say "unsorted boxes" instead of giving a call number. That means that if you request the documents, you'll get crates of unsorted papers, and it'll be your job to carefully dig through them and try to make sense of them. Archives REALLY appreciate it if you help them with their work and attempt to put the documents in order as you search through them. It makes EVERYONE'S use of the archive easier in the future.
6) Finally, many documents will be unavailable. Many diplomatic papers are only declassified a certain number of years after the death of the last person mentioned in the papers. Sometimes, papers on wars won't be declassified until one hundred years after the conflict ends. (For example, I got to utilize papers on the Spanish American War when the archive opened in 1998.) Others will embarrass certain nations, and so are kept secret for diplomatic purposes. And in many cases, documents will be hiding simply because the index is wrong, or missed certain boxes. (It's always exciting when you find one of those by accident, because everyone, even the archivist, loves opening them and finding out what's inside. For example, I discovered, purely by accident, the wallet that President McKinley was wearing on the day he was assassinated in a mismarked box at the Library of Congress. They were excited about that. It was very cool.)
If you have any other questions about the process, feel free to ask!
Wow, that's really cool. Thanks for sharing! :thumbsup: