Home / Special Collections / Research / Using the Collections

Using the Collections

Special collections is open to the public, but contains many valuable and unique items that require special security measures. Before you visit, read through the information on availability of materials, what to do when you arrive, and what to do when you leave.

Research Appointments

There are a number of reasiosn why Special Collections requires appointments, including continuing safety protocols related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as operaitonal limitations.

COVID-19 Safety Concerns

There are specific considerations that Special Collections must take into account related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For example:

While all current students, faculty, and staff at the University of Washington are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, most Special Collections users are from outside the UW Community. This means we cannot assume that all of our users have been vaccinated, nor can we confirm their vaccination status.

Thanks to our incredible collections, users travel from all over the world to make use of our collections! We're thrilled to serve these users and are confident that they're taking every precaution to keep themselves and those around them safe. But we also acknowledge that travel increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission for travelers and those who they come in contact with.

As part of our safety protocols, staff disinfect user workstaions and shared equipment between each apptointment. Capping our appointments at a certain number (8 total) and leaving a 15 minute buffer between appointments ensures that staff have time to properly disinfect workstations and public equipment for the safety of our users.

Appointents also allow for better contact tracing in the event a staff member or user tests positive for COVID-19. In fact LibCal, our appointment software, has a built-in contact tracing module.

Operational Limitations

Special Collections materials are all stored in closed stacks. This means that users cannot browse material and take it off the shelves. Instead, they submit requests and staff go retreive material for them. In the past, users have had to spend valuable research time waiting for material to be retrieved. Appointments allow us to retrieve material ahead of time, ensuring that it is waiting for the user when they arrive!

Many of our collections require advance notice to use - whether because they are stored offsite and require us to arrange delivery, or because they have restrictions that require screening. Having users make appointments and submit requests ahead of time gives us the opportunity to front load this work, ensuring that researchers are actually able to view the material when they arrive instead of having to wait, or worse, being told that they can't view the collection at all!

Like many workplaces, Special Collections is in the midst of a substantial staffing shortage. Appointments give us the opportunity to plan for our researchers' visits ahead of time and allows us to continue to support research visits with our current staffing levels. In fact, we were one of the first archives and special collections to locally reopen thanks to this model!

Frequently asked questions

How many appointments can I schedule?

Users can schedule up to four appointments at a time. Once you've finished with one appointment, you can schedule your next one.

How much material can I request?

Users can request up to four items per appointment. For our purposes, an item refers to whatever we take off the shelf - so it can be a single volume, a single box of archival material, or a single vertical file.

Why item limits?

Special Collections, like many places, is experiencing a staffing shortage. Item limits allow us to keep the requests to a manageable level for the staff we do have, while still providing access to our users.

Can I request extra items or get extra appointments?

You're welcome to request exceptions to our item or appointment limits! We can make one time exceptions on a case by case basis depending on specific factors such as: timeline, availability of materials, availability of staff, and space. We do not guarantee that we will be able to to grant your exception. Please email speccoll@uw.edu to discuss exceptions.

How do I make an appointment?

You can make one online!

Do you have a remote option?

We do! Take a look at our newest service, the Virtual Reading Room!

Will you continue with appointments?

Yes! Appointments have helped us streamline many processes so we can work more efficiently. We currently plan to accept drop-in visits by Fall Quarter 2022.

Availability of Materials

Special Collections is open by appointment to members of the UW community, visiting scholars, and the general public and contains many rare, valuable, and unique items that require special security measures to assure they will be available for years to come. We ask your patience and understanding in striking this sometimes difficult balance between making these materials accessible and preserving our rare and fragile items.

All collections are non-circulating. Except for some reference resources on open shelves, all materials are housed in secure, non-browsing stacks and are retrieved for users upon request.

Most collections are available at all hours of opening. The majority of materials are stored on-site and can be retrieved quickly. Some manuscript and archival materials stored off-site are retrieved on a set schedule. Advanced planning is needed to see these items.

A small portion of the collections have donor imposed or legal restrictions. Access to Manuscript collections is governed by terms agreed to by the donor of the records and the Libraries at the time of the gift. Most accessions are available for public use, but some may only be used by advanced academic researchers or are subject to other restrictions. University Archives collections are open to the public, subject to the terms and conditions established by transfer agreements or deeds of gift. Please note, however, that many collections of university records contain temporarily non-public material that are restricted to use only by University officials.

When you arrive

When you arrive to Special Collections, you will be asked to check all of your belongings.

You may bring loose paper, pencils, laptop computers (without cases), tablets, cell phones, and cameras (without cases) into the Reading Room. You may not bring pens, food or drink, ring binders, sprial notebooks, folders, cases, bags, notepads, or containers of any kind. You may not bring in any external camera equipment or personal scanners.