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Collections Use Policy

The Special Collections Research Center and its collections are open to the GW community, external researchers and the public. We ask that all researchers review and agree to observe this list of guidelines before using materials. 


  • All researchers will register, providing a name and contact information.  A valid photo ID is required to verify identity.
  • Signing the registration card constitutes agreement to follow all rules.

General rules

  • No food or drinks of any kind are allowed within the Special Collections registration area or the reading room, regardless of their container.
  • Coats and bags of any kind (including purses) are to be left in a locker.  
  • Only pencils will be used when in the presence of Special Collections materials.
  • Researchers are permitted to use personal laptops.
  • Materials may not be removed from the public area of Special Collections.

Handling of books

  • Books housed in protective boxes should be completely removed from the box before use.
  • Books and all bound volumes--regardless of age-- should be placed in the foam book cradles available in the reading room in order to protect the spines. 
  • Book weights are available to assist readers in keeping pages open. Some books cannot be opened all the way.
  • If you are uncertain about proper handling of rare materials please ask the desk attendant for help. 

Handling of manuscript materials

  • A researcher will be given one box at his/her table at a time.
  • Folders should be removed from boxes one at a time.  They should be replaced with "Out" cards to make sure they stay in order.
  • Materials within a folder should be kept flat and in order. 
  • Pages that a researcher would like to mark (for photocopying, etc.) can be marked with paper strips kept at the registration desk.
  • We do not permit researchers to listen to or view any electronic media in its original form.
  • Electronic media (audio cassette tapes, video tapes, CDs, and DVDs, etc.) must be digitally reproduced to facilitate research access. 
  • The reformatting of original electronic media will be at the expense of the requestor; existing digitized media if available will be provided at no cost. 

Reproduction of materials

  • Requests for reproductions must be approved by Special Collections staff.  Permission may be denied due to copyright restrictions or the condition of the materials.
  • In general, reproductions of materials will be handled by Special Collections staff. However, researchers are allowed to take images of materials using digital, video or film cameras, as long as no flash or other extra lighting is used. Special Collections reserves the right to regulate or prohibit researchers' photography in order to protect materials.
  • Researchers are prohibited from using all models of scanners, whether flatbed or personal/portable/handheld.  
  • Pages that a researcher would like to mark (for scanning etc.) can be marked with acid-free paper strips kept at the registration desk.  Pages should not be folded, turned, or taken out of order.   Post-it notes, paper clips, or other fasteners should not be attached to materials.
  • See more information on our Copies and Reproductions page. 

Citing Manuscript Materials

  A well-crafted citation should lead your reader directly to the exact document or item cited. As such, the following elements ought to be included in your citations:

  • Document title/name (you will often have to impute this information if the document is not titled)
  • Author(s)/creator(s)
  • Document date, if available
  • Series, box, and folder number
  • Collection number and name
  • Repository name: Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Libraries
  • Location: Washington, DC. 

Example: Letter from James Oglethorpe to the Trustees, 13 January 1876, Series 1, Box 4, Folder 3. RG0001 Records of the Board of Trustees, Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Libraries, Washington, DC.

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