Editor’s Note: This situation report provides an overview of the current protocols at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland (Archives II). Please note this refers to Archives II only, as at early April 2022, and may be subject to change. Please check the NARA website for updates and communicate with the archives before making any definitive research plans. For further information and updates see: https://www.archives.gov/college-park.
Many thanks to Bill McAllister for agreeing to share his personal experiences/correspondence with the Points audience.
A) If one resides close enough to commute (say, no more than 100 kilometers from College Park), it is possible to conduct research in a sustained manner, though one cannot expect to access the archives on an every-day basis as was the norm before March 2020.
B) Anyone who must travel long-distance, thereby incurring transportation, hotel, food, and other expenses, should consider the factors listed below very carefully before expending funds and time in hopes of researching at NARA II. This is especially the case for those who hope to engage in a major research project that requires weeks or months to complete.
The Current Situation:
1: The number of researchers allowed entry to conduct textual research has been reduced from 152 to 48—a 68% decrease. Additional slots may be available for those conducting only microfilm, map, photograph, and other types of non-textual research.
2: Researchers must apply, in advance, by email for an appointment to gain access to NARA II. You cannot simply walk in—if your name is not on the list for the day you cannot enter.
3: Your initial appointment is good for only one day. You can email NARA and/or visit Room 1000 on the first floor to request additional appointments, but there are no guarantees. You might not be able to secure additional appointments on any sort of consistent basis. For example, if you set aside one month (i.e. twenty working days) to conduct research at NARA II, you might be able to get appointments for fifteen days, or ten, or only five; there is no way to assure consistent, sustained access in advance.
4: There is some good news. NARA II has relaxed some if its pre-COVID limitations on the amount of research one can conduct on any given day:
—You can order a second cart to have waiting when you finish the cart you are currently working on.
—NARA is allowing boxes to be placed on the top shelf of carts, which increases by 33% the amount of materials you can access at one time.
—Rather than only a few fixed pull times each day, NARA II is currently pulling records on an ongoing basis, any time between 0900 and 1500. Sometimes the records are delivered in as little as 30 minutes, sometimes it takes up to two hours to receive a pull.
—NARA II has instituted a pre-order scheme that, at least in theory, enables researchers to have one cart of boxes waiting for them when they arrive. Researchers must communicate with the archivist staff to arrange for this, and it doesn’t always succeed (it didn’t in my case).