What are archives?
Archives house collections that can contain unpublished and published materials that have research or enduring value that are preserved by institutions or organizations. The materials are often unique, rare or fragile and may be the only copy in existance. They can be made up of manuscripts, photographs, objects, audio and video recordings, correspondence, diaries and book collections. Universities, corporations, governments, historical societies, museums and religious institutions can all have archives.
How do you access archival materials?
Since archival materials are unique, rare or fragile they cannot be checked out. You must visit the archive and use those materials in a reading room. Every instituion has different policies so always check with the archive before you visit.
Planning a visit:
Archives often try to determine the copyright status of the materials in their collections. If the archives owns the copyright of materials they will note it in the finding aid or when you reproduce materials. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the researcher to determine the copyright status of materials they use in publications. You will often also have to fill out permission to publish forms and archives may have other requirements for publishing their materials.
Making copies of materials for research purposes is almost always an option at archives.