Thursday, August 11, 2016

So You’re Planning to Visit the Library & Archives…

A checklist for researchers at the Tennessee State Library and Archives

By Heather Adkins

The Tennessee State Library & Archives is often visited by people new to research. Walking into any archives can be an intimidating experience, if you don’t know what to expect. Here is a pre-visit checklist you can consult before leaving home to make planning easier and your visit go as smoothly as possible:

A look back an an early photo of our Tennessee Reading Room, or South Reading Room, of the Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Library Photo Collection.

Check the website

You can find a lot of information on an archive's website. Take some time to explore digital collections and look at finding aids and book catalogs. Your trip will be more efficient if you weed out records you can inspect from home. If you are doing family or local research, a great place to start is the genealogical “fact sheets” about Tennessee counties. The website will also present you with the archives’ policies – what you can and cannot bring, hours, location, and contact information. Here is our website:

Check your dates

We have really old records, not more recent ones, which means we may not have your birth/death/marriage certificate. What we do have are birth certificates from 1908 to 1915, death certificates from 1908 to 1965, marriage certificates up to 1965, and divorce records up to 1965. For anything more recent than those years, you will need to contact the Tennessee Office of Vital Records (615-741-1763). Remember, we retain only certificates made for people who were born, have died, or were married/divorced in the state of Tennessee.

Check your subject matter

About 90 percent of our records are about Tennessee, its citizens, government, and history. One exception is land records that were part of North Carolina before Tennessee became a state; however, these only cover areas which later became Tennessee. Another exception is a collection of record books pertaining to the states that border Tennessee. These are helpful if you have ancestors who moved, but not very far. We also have several collections from the National Archives, but they focus on Tennessee.

Check for restrictions

The Library & Archives, by law, cannot allow access to adoption records, medical records or student records.

Check your supplies

Taking notes with paper and pencil is just one way of collecting information. These days, many archives offer options for you to get digital copies rather than hard copies of the records you find. For example, we have digital book scanners and microfilm scanners, both of which allow you to make copies from books and film without the hassle of a photocopy machine. That said, photocopiers are available for use as well. The best way to prepare for making digital copies is to bring a flash drive or two.

Check for fees

Be aware that there may be copy fees for records. We have two coin-operated, self-service photocopiers available for15 cents per page. Hard copies from microfilm are 25 cents per page. Copies made from original material (in the manuscripts section only) are 50 cents per page. If you forget your flash drive, we sell 4GB flash drives for less than $5.

Check the time

The Library & Archives is open Tuesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Central time. The building is closed to patrons on Mondays and on state holidays.

Check with us!

We LOVE to help – that’s our job! If you have any questions, give us a call at 615-741-2764 or send an email to We have an answering machine, so if the line is busy or you call outside of business hours, you can leave a message and we will call you back at the earliest convenience. We answer emails as promptly as possible.

Check in! We can’t wait to meet you

When you walk in the door, you will be greeted by our security staff who will get you checked in. They will use your driver’s license to fill out a research card (like a library card). The research card is for you to keep! Bring it in every time you visit. You have the option to put your personal belongings in a security locker or keeping them with you - except in the manuscript section, where only paper and pencils are allowed. The security staff will point you to the research areas. Library staff will be on hand to help you with research and are available to give brief orientation tours of the research areas.

These pre-visit steps are not limited to just the Tennessee State Library & Archives – you can use them to visit any archives, whether local, out of state or abroad. We look forward to helping you with your research.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

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