Hiring a researcher for archival work
February 1, 2018 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I need photographs of some court documents housed at a National Archives facility far away from me. How should I go about hiring a researcher, and what can I expect to pay for the service? What should I expect in general?

I'm looking at district court records (minutes, dockets, case files, etc.) pertaining to one case. I've located relevant records on the NARA research guide, and I'm emailing with Archives staff to confirm location, availability, etc.

Where should I find a researcher? NARA keeps a list of researchers (with the caveat that they aren't endorsed by NARA), but there aren't many where I'm looking, and it seems like it's all either paralegals or professional geneaologists. That seems like more than I need. Or is it? (I suppose may depend on how much the Archives staff are able to tell from their catalog.)

What's a reasonable expectation for an hourly rate for this kind of service? How should I estimate total cost? Based on my own experience with archival research, I can guess how long it'll take to request, receive, and photograph the documents, but that's just a guess. It's absolutely crucial that I can make some kind of estimate; there's a point at which it could end up being cheaper to go myself.

I've never hired anyone for anything like this before. I want to be sure that I won't be hit with any surprises (like an unexpected $600 charge, or low-resolution document copies that I can't read). And I want to be sure I'll have fair and reasonable expectations for anyone I hire.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you literally just need pictures/copies I wouldn't expect you'd need a researcher at all assuming you can give them name and ID information of what you need to get copies made off. If you need someone to only copy what's relevant to your work, then yes. You also might want to make sure that NARA won't just send you the copies for a fee. If it's just photocopies you could MeFi jobs it and someone would be doing okay for $20/hour doing that (if it's the NARA facility in MA I can suggest some people) If it's an actual researcher I'd start at at least twice that.
posted by jessamyn at 2:49 PM on February 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

If it’s NARA in College Park, MD, it’s literally across the street from the University of a Maryland. Maybe a student in the I School could do it?
posted by kittydelsol at 3:52 PM on February 1, 2018

It depends on the facility, but if its NARA they are unlikely to just send you the copies for a fee. You may want to consider going with one of their recommended researchers even if they don't appear to be in relevant fields. Since you seem to know exactly what documents you want, what you really will need is someone who is familiar with the process of accessing the facility, requesting records, and using their copying system. It isn't just walking in, asking someone behind the desk for the records, and walking over to the photocopier. NARA has a time-consuming process for obtaining a researcher card, there are usually specific "pull" times and you often have to go to a different part of the facility to purchase a copy card (caveat that I am most experienced with the mother ships at DC and College Park; smaller facilities may be easier to deal with).

Also, a professional researcher on their list is also more likely to be able to estimate exactly how long it will take to access your documents and can guarantee what format and resolution they will provide them in. You can also call around to several of them and compare estimates. I can't say for sure what the charge might be for the service since it will likely depend on where the facility is. I'm kind of assuming it isn't one of the DC-area repositories since you say there aren't a lot of researchers listed.
posted by Preserver at 6:16 PM on February 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I do this for a living, and most of the NARA researchers I know work for print or film. If you need some in the DC area, send me a message.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:21 PM on February 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

It depends on the facility, but if its NARA they are unlikely to just send you the copies for a fee.

I spent $120 on about ~160 pages of copies from the Kansas City National Archives in December, and much less than that in August on a few pages from the Chicago National Archives. The NARA archivists were extremely helpful and were more than happy to send me copies. The one caveat is that the file I wanted in KC was larger than they could copy. To get the whole thing, I was going to need to hire a researcher. The archivist just copied the most relevant pages for me instead. (It was a bankruptcy file that was more than 100 years old. There was a lot of filler -- pages I didn't need copies of.)
posted by mudpuppie at 6:29 PM on February 1, 2018

I don't do this for a living. I do live near the Seattle NARA and would be willing to undertake this, partly to gain the experience.
posted by Altomentis at 9:27 PM on February 1, 2018

Sorry, I shouldn't have been vague about the location. This is the National Archives at Fort Worth.

That said... well, this is embarrassing, but after I read what mudpuppie wrote, I did a search for "NARA reproductions" and the first result was a page listing their reproduction fees. There's even a flat fee for ordering copies of civil cases, which is what I need ($90 for 150 pages, and anything beyond that you pay $22/hour for labor).

I'm stunned. I had absolutely no idea you could order reproductions from them. No joke, I have probably spent about a month doing full-time research at Archives 1 in the past year. Like, I got to know some of the staff there personally. So I thought I was pretty NARA savvy, but apparently not! I can't even blame their website, because there's a link on the left that says "I want to order copies." Hoo boy.

Well, I will swallow my pride and email Fort Worth, um, again, only this time I'll specifically ask for a reproduction.

Thanks, mudpuppie. And thanks everyone for the information - this is actually all really good stuff to know, even if, uh, apparently it turns out that I don't actually need to hire someone right now after all.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:57 PM on February 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

Final update: I heard back from Fort Worth, and it turns out the documents I need aren't housed at NARA anyway. Apparently I'm looking for state court records, not federal (it's totally confusing: District Court in [Place] is a federal court, but e.g. 12th District Court in [Place] is a state court). Well, this is all very useful information anyway.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:23 PM on February 2, 2018

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