Considering the amount of digital material that is appearing online, if you are contemplating visiting any archive, including the New York State Archives, it is a very good idea to do all your homework online in advance of your visit. It can be very disappointing to arrive at the archive and find out that the records you need have been digitized and made available online and the originals copies are no longer available for examination. This can happen because of the fragile condition of the original documents. Fortunately, many of the archives around the world are making their collections available online. But there are still very substantial numbers of documents that are unique and only available for inspection by an onsite visit.
If you finally decide that a physical visit to the archive is necessary, make sure you fully understand whatever rules pertain to your visit and which records you would be allowed to copy and which records would not be available except through obtaining special permission. New York State Archives has its own Research Room Rules as do all of the other record repositories in the world. It is heartbreaking to arrive at the entrance to the archive and find that it is closed for some local event or holiday.
In many cases with archives and university and college special collections libraries, the shelves holding the material are "closed" meaning you have to request access to each item you wish to examine and wait while an archive employee retrieves the items. Many times, you will be required to examine the items in an enclosed area called a "reading room" or similar title such as a research room. Access to the reading room or research room and the items you can take with you into these facilities are regulated. Just for an example, here are the items which are permitted and not permitted in the New York Archives Research Room.
B. Items Permitted and Not Permitted in Research Room
Researchers may have the following items in the Research Room:
loose blank paper (available on request)
notecards and notes
spiral notebooks (without pockets) [microforms area only]
folders (without pockets)
laptop computer (without case)
hand-held cameras (without case)
magnifying glass (available on request)
The following items are not permitted in the Research Room:
folders and spiral notebooks with pockets
computer and camera cases
briefcases and suitcases
handbags and pocketbooks
backpacks and fanny packs
food and drink
Reasonable accommodation. A researcher may ask staff about arranging for a reasonable accommodation for a medical need.With these types of rules, some of the archives provide lockers to store personal items while accessing the reading rooms or research rooms.
More importantly, access to some or all of the collections in an archive may be limited to accredited researchers. In some cases, access is limited to those who have pre-registered and allowed access. From this fact alone, you can see that planning your visit is absolutely necessary.
All of these rules are a good incentive to make sure the items you need are not already available somewhere online.