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Guide to Archival Research

A guide on conducting archival research. Includes instructions on finding archival material at the Dalhousie Libraries.

What is the Archives Document Delivery Service?

The Archives Document Delivery Service is a new pilot initiative designed to increase access to the University Archives' archival collections. The new service will allow Dalhousie students, faculty, and staff to request free digital copies of files and items found in the Archives Catalogue.

Consortia members and external researchers should continue to refer to the reproduction services and fee schedule document on the Archives website.

How Does the Service Work?

Digitization requests can be submitted online using a new "Archives Request" form available when you log into the Document Delivery Request Form:

Users should consult the Archives Catalogue to find files and items of interest.

When a request is received, Archives staff will work with Document Delivery staff to:

  • Determine if the request can be fulfilled
  • Prepare the file(s) for digitization
  • Digitize the file according to the University Archives digitization standards
  • Create a high-quality, fully-searchable (with some exceptions for illegible and/or handwritten text) PDF or high-resolution JPEG image
  • Send users a link to download the file(s)

The service is very similar to the electronic delivery of journal articles requested through Document Delivery.  But it is limited to archival material held by the Dalhousie Libraries. Please note that the actual archival materials will not circulate. The service will provide digital copies.

How Do I Fill Out the Request Form?

The request form is customized to "match" the descriptive fields in the Archives Catalogue and Online Collections. Some elements are required to submit the request, but we encourage users to fill out as many fields as possible. This will help us to understand the nature of each request.

Required elements for Archives Request Form
Form Element Description
Fonds or Collection Title Almost every archival file or item belongs to a fonds or collection
Title Proper Every archival file or item in the Archives Catalogue has a title
Reference Code Every archival file or item has a unique "reference code," which is just like the call numbers used to locate books in the library stacks
Delivery Method Should be automatically set to "Email"
Messaging Method Should be automatically set to "Email"
Delivery Address Should be automatically filled out with your email address
Messaging Address Should be automatically filled out with your email address
Fair Dealing checkbox

Check the checkbox for the Fair dealing notice


Screenshot of file-level description in the Archives Catalogue

Optional elements for Archives Requeset Form
Element Description
Name of creator Can be found in the "Archival Description Area"
Series title Large fonds and collections have "series" of files and items
Physical description Can usually be found in the "Physical Description Area"
Date of creation Can usually be found in the "Dates of Creation Area"
Citation source You can copy and paste the URL for the file or item you are requesting
Further notes about request Add any additional information you think will help us understand the nature of your request.
Need by date This information will help us communicate with you about time-sensitive requests. We cannot fulfill archives requests as fast as scanned journal articles, so your "need by date" helps us determine if it will be feasible to complete the request. See the section on "How Long Does it Take to Receive a Request?" for more information.

Where Can I Find Help Using the Archives Document Delivery Service?

Staff in the University Archives can provide assistance searching the Archives Catalogue and completing the "Archives Request" form.

You can visit the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room on the 5th Floor of the Killam Memorial Library between 11:00 and 5:00, Monday-Friday.

You can also call the Reading Room at 902-494-3615 or email us at

We have detailed instructions on searching and browsing the Archives Catalogue. The Guide to Archival Research has more information.

What Kind of Archival Materials Can I Request?

Eligible Materials

  • All private manuscript collections, including photographs
  • Publicly available university records
  • Certain university records may be made available to administrative staff

Ineligible Materials

  • Materials that exceed the definition of "short excerpt" in the Dalhousie Fair Dealing Guidelines
  • Materials with access and/or use restrictions imposed by the donor of the material
  • Unprocessed private manuscript collections that have not been appraised
  • Audiovisual materials
  • Fragile material that cannot be digitized using existing equipment in the Libraries
  • Bound manuscripts or other formats that cannot be digitized using existing equipment in the Libraries
  • Files with more than 100 pages

My Reqest Was Cancelled. What Happened?

There are a number of reasons why Libraries staff might have to cancel your digitization request:

  • The file has access and/or use restrictions.
  • The request exceeds the definition of "short excerpt" in the Dalhousie Fair Dealing Guidelines.
  • The materials are too fragile to be scanned with existing equipment in the Libraries
  • The file contains a mix of material (e.g., textual records and photographs) that cannot easily be compiled into a PDF
  • The file contains audiovisual material and/or electronic records that cannot be scanned with existing equipment in the Libraries.
  • Some or all textual materials are bound in a way that prevents suitable preservation scans from being created with existing equipment in the Libraries.

In some cases, Libraries staff may contact you to discuss the possibility of scanning a portion of the material or to clarify the nature of your request.

How Long Does it Take to Receive a Request?

The Archives Document Delivery Service will use the existing document delivery time guidelines to measure the Libraries' ability to fulfill free archives digitization requests in a timely manner. Members of the Dalhousie community may be accustomed to receiving scanned journal articles within a day or two even though delivery can take 2-3 weeks. The digitization process we will be testing is more complicated and time consuming and we anticipate requests taking 1-2 weeks.

If you have a deadline for your material please either use the “Not Useful After” calendar available on the web request form or add a note in the Notes field. You can also email the staff at and they can check where the item is coming from and give you an estimated time of arrival.

Urgent surcharge and same day service are not available.

Can I Provide Feedback on this Service?

Yes, please! This is a pilot initiative to assess the Libraries' capacity to digitize archival material as a free service for Dalhousie students, faculty, and staff. Digitizing archival material can be time-consuming and complex, so we anticipate a few bumps as we launch this new service. Please provide feedback on your experience using this service by emailing