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Special Collections for the Student Worker

While one of Special Collections' primary duties is caring for and preserving our collections, of equal importance is helping people access and handle our items correctlyWe exist in large part to serve researchers, which include students, SU faculty, staff, scholars, and members of the general public.

Please keep in mind that when you are working with researchers, professionalism is of utmost importance - remember that you are representing both Special Collections and Southwestern University.

The tabs below talk about what our student worker's experience will be when working with researchers.

Patron Guidelines

Upon arrival, researchers are greeted in the reception area and given a Reader Registration Form. The forms are located at the reception desk. When you receive this form from the patron, please be sure the information entered is legible and that they have filled out the form without skipping any fields. Take the form into the Reading Room with you and place it on the proctoring desk for reference while the researcher is with us. A patron only has to fill out a researcher form once a year - if they have been in before, ask Anne to pull their form from her files.

As you make your way to the Reading Room, pause and ask the patron to wash their hands with soap and water in the staff break room so that they may handle materials in the reading room when appropriate.

When in the Reading Room, instruct patron to place their belongings in the white cubbies inside the door. It is your responsibility to tell researchers what personal items they are allowed to take with them to the desks. The items are:

  • notebook / paper
  • laptop computer
  • camera / cell phone

Items that are NOT allowed:

  • pencils / pens / other writing implements
  • food / drink / chewing gum / candy or cough drops

We supply pencils for the patron to use. Under no circumstances should pens or anything with ink be allowed near an item.

Patrons typically have some idea of what they would like to use before they come to Special Collections. If not, they will work with either Megan in ArchivesSpace (for archival manuscripts) or in WorldCat for cataloged items. Separate sections in this LibGuide detail how to search in either platform should you need to.

An important part of your job as proctor of the Reading Room is to explain how we expect our materials to be handled, for which you will be given hands-on training (see also "Handling" within this guide). Briefly, it is essential that archival materials remain in their original order. Documents must not be folded, leaned on, traced or written on. When using books, we always provide a cradle or other support selected by staff for books to prevent damage to the spine. We also provide white cotton gloves for handling photographs, textiles and other objects. Gloves are not required for handling archival documents or books.

If called for, explain our camera, copyright and reproductions policies (coming soon). Instruct the patron to place an acid free place marker around the document if a copy or a scan is desired, and hand out our Photocopy Request Form along with the place markers.

If you are proctoring, sit at the desk and face the Reading Room so that you can monitor all activity and ensure that guidelines are followed. Never leave the room unattended. If you need to leave or take a break, please get a staff member to continue proctoring while you are gone. You can call, use Google chat or text to contact us.

When patrons leave, ask if their research with the materials is complete or if they intend to return. If they intend to return within the same week, offer to hold the materials until their next visit.


The key to answering researcher questions is understanding what questions are being asked. It is a special skill to tease out information to better understand for what the researcher is looking. Reference librarians are trained in asking these kinds of questions, and also to assist researchers with more complex information searches. Depending on the complexity, Megan is the first point of contact for researcher questions.

As a student worker, your primary responsibilities are:

  • to instruct and monitor researchers in handling and use of Special collections materials
  • to be a contact point in the Reading Room in the event the patron has any questions

If, at any point, you don't feel best equipped to answer a question from a patron, ask Megan or Anne. You can text us, use Google chat, or call us to help you.

One of the ethical tenets of librarians is to respect the privacy of patrons - the American Library Association set up this webpage with details about this tenet.


As a student worker assisting patrons of the library, privacy and confidentiality are things of which you should be aware. You will sign an agreement with us which lays out the details of patron confidentiality - click here if you want to refresh your memory.


Generally, it means that you should not discuss who visits Special Collections, and what they use when they are here (outside of the staff of Special Collections).