Washington, DC Area

National Archives at College Park: Before You Visit

Before you Visit

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the depository of the permanently valuable non-current records of the Federal Government. Our mission is to preserve the records for posterity and make them available. As part of our reference service, we provide information about the records, make copies of the records for a fee, and make records available for use in our research rooms.

It is a good idea to contact us ahead of your visit

We strongly encourage researchers to contact the National Archives before making a research visit. Please send the same reference inquiry to only one address to avoid confusion and duplication of work. Making contact before visiting can help the staff prepare researchers for what they will find and help smooth the process once they arrive at Archives II.

Keep in mind that when you contact far enough in advance our reference staff will then have sufficient time to respond. A good rule of thumb is to write a minimum of 4 weeks before you plan to arrive and conduct research. This allows time for the staff to administer the request, conduct the necessary background work, and to prepare and send a response. It is best to receive a reply from our staff that specialize in the records prior to an onsite visit.

If researchers have complex questions that require an in depth consultation, they should write even sooner. Please note, however, that NARA staff cannot undertake research for you. Our staff assists researchers with their work by providing information about the records, but we do not undertake substantive research for researchers.

Contacting us ahead of time is especially necessary if a researcher is interested in more recent records (1950s and later); records of agencies that deal with more sensitive government functions (such as the USIA, the Peace Corps, Treasury and Justice, the FBI, and the intelligence agencies); records for which there is only incomplete or partial identification (agency-assigned numbers, such as Department of State "Lot File" numbers that do not always carry over into use by the National Archives); and records that have only recently been transferred to the National Archives.

We need to protect Privacy information

NARA takes very seriously the protection of individual privacy rights. Textual records transferred to NARA within the last 10 years have the potential to contain a living individual’s personal information.

This information is known legally as “Personally Identifiable Information (PII). The most obvious example is social security numbers. Another example are grant and medical case files. NARA by statutory mandate protects and controls access to this kind of information everyday because like you, we do not want such private and personal information released to the public at large.

For this reason the records may only be accessible to the general public by a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request.

Not all of our textual records are readily available

While it is our ultimate goal, not all textual records are fully processed, with full descriptions and complete finding aids. Until the goal is met, locating specific bodies of records transferred to the National Archives, especially those transferred recently, can often involve a time-consuming, multi-step process involving both researchers and NARA staff. This cannot be done effectively on an ad hoc basis while researchers wait in the Research Room. Researchers may have to request additional information from the agency of origin, and NARA staff may have to consult transfer documentation, printouts, preliminary finding aids, and classified indexes to assist in locating files of interest. The same is true for locating files relating to esoteric topics. NARA understands that the absence of complete finding aids can be frustrating to researchers, but by writing in advance, some of the problems may be overcome.

What are some of the other reasons to contact the National Archives in advance?

  • We can provide information about hours of operation and holidays. Hours of operation are established by each facility.
  • We can provide you with information about NARA procedures. For example, we are unable to pull records for use in advance of your arrival.
  • We can identify records that are available on-line or on National Archives Microfilm Publications, thus saving a trip to the National Archives. Researchers must use microfilm and online resources when those options are available.
  • We can identify records that will not be transferred to the National Archives. Only a small percentage of all Federal records are designated as permanent. All others are scheduled for destruction under the authority of approved records control schedules.
  • We can identify permanent records that are not yet in the National Archives. In those cases you must contact the agency of origin.
  • We can let you know if the records in which you are interested are temporarily unavailable to researchers because of various reasons (the records are undergoing preservation work, are being imaged or microfilmed, or for some other reason).
  • We can identify records that have been moved to another location, such as a Presidential Library or a NARA regional facility.
  • We can let you know if the records have been sent to remote off-site storage and thus require advance special arrangements to use.
  • We can let you know if the records in which you are interested are available for use. Before records are made available to researchers, they must be processed and reviewed for documents containing security classified information or information that is otherwise restricted.

For more information

Textual Reference Fax Number:

(301) 837-1752

Textual Reference Email Address

(Please specify "agency request" in subject line)

Mailing address

Textual Reference Office (RDT2)
Room 2400
National Archives at College Park, MD
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001