Special Collections policies

Field Reading Room policies

The Field Reading Room is reserved for users of Special Collections and University Archives materials. Because the vast majority of the department's holdings are unique, rare, or extremely fragile, we ask patrons to help us preserve these materials for future scholars by following these special handling requirements:

  • Arrive with clean hands, washed with only soap and water. Lotions are to be avoided before handling materials as they contain harmful residues.
  • Special Collections materials do not circulate.
  • Food and drink are not permitted.
  • All personal belongings, except those necessary for research (such as single sheets of paper, pencils, cell phones, and laptop computers), should be placed in the reading room lockers. This includes coats, backpacks, three-ring binders, spiral bound notebooks, and laptop cases. Legal pads and laptop cases will also need to be placed inside a locker.
  • All books must be used in a foam cradle. A staff member will provide you with the appropriate cradle and book weights.
  • Manuscript and archival materials must lie flat on the tables; do not place items in your lap or hold them up. Do not rest objects or take notes on top of materials.
  • Nitrile gloves may be required to handle some of our materials, particularly negatives, photographs, metal objects, and prints. A staff member will provide a pair for you. Our gloves are both latex and powder free.
  • Photography is allowed; however, there is a strict protocol for following procedures which will be explained at the Reading Room desk.
  • Personal copiers and scanners are not allowed.
  • Researchers are allowed to view five books at one time.
  • Researchers are allowed to use one box and one folder from the box at a time. Please take care to keep the documents in the file in the order in which you found them.
  • The use of cell phones (other than for photography) is prohibited.

Duplication

Scanning is done by Special Collections staff only. Staff will decline scanning requests if the materials are fragile or may be damaged by the duplication process.

Providing reproductions does not constitute permission to publish or reproduce images in print or electronic form. For more information regarding our duplication services, please see our section on requesting copies. Please note that we do not reproduce entire books or manuscript boxes (or substantial portions of either) unless authorized.

Digital camera use

The use of personal cameras in the Field Reading Room is managed by Public Services, Department of Special Collections and University Archives. One is allowed to take photographs of materials but must sign a "Digital Release Form" prior to all photography; the photographic protocols will be explained in detail upon entry into the Reading Room. Digital surrogates taken by researchers are for private research and not for publication. Fragile, damaged or restricted items will not be duplicated in any way and entire books or manuscript boxes (or substantial portions of either) will not be digitally reproduced unless otherwise authorized.

The Department grants researchers the privilege of using their personal digital cameras to make digital surrogates of materials in the reading room at no charge and under the following conditions:

Material review

Not all material may be photographed and the Department reserves the right to deny permission. Digital camera use is subject to the material’s condition, copyright laws, donor-imposed restrictions, and specific conditions and arrangements for preservation. Staff must review all material before an appointment will be scheduled. Oversize items, records or documents in fragile condition, or those already available in microfilm or digital form, are not typically available for digital copying. If an item’s condition dictates that a digital photocopy can be made by staff only, departmental digital copy charges will apply.

Handling and care

The preservation needs of the material outweigh the technical limitations of the camera. Researchers must be familiar and experienced in the proper handling of material or receive instruction prior to the start of their appointment. Patrons may not push on bindings or hold materials up in order to obtain a better quality picture. Archival and manuscript material must remain flat on the table; books must remain in foam cradles with book weights used to hold pages flat. Flash photography is prohibited. Any instance of flash photography, mistreatment and/or damage to materials during an appointment will result in an immediate termination of the session with no option to reschedule in the future.

Equipment requirements and restrictions

Cameras should have a manual setting and allow a long exposure since flash photography is prohibited. The following equipment cannot be used to make digital reproductions: personal scanners, tripods, extension cords, and flash photography. Patrons may not under any circumstances stand on reading room chairs or place materials on the floor in order to obtain a better photograph. Staff will request that a test shot be taken before an appointment begins in order to insure the flash is disabled.

Copyright compliance

It is the policy of Special Collections that no entire collection or book can be copied or photographed. Staff will provide researchers with a transparent template that must be included on each digital image.

Copyright declaration

Patrons agree to use digital surrogates made in the reading room for private research only. Images of materials made in the reading room may not be used for publication or use on a website without permission in writing from the department. Patrons must sign a copyright declaration form acknowledging that it is their responsibility to obtain relevant permission from copyright owners in the event they decide to publish their work.

Interlibrary loan materials

Special collections materials lent to Stanford University Special Collections and sent via ILL will not be digitally photographed in the Field reading room or reproduced in any way by Special Collections staff. Special collections materials borrowed from Stanford University Special Collections and sent via ILL to another institution can not be digitally photographed in any way.

Permission to publish or broadcast

Formal written permission is required from the Department of Special Collections and University Archives prior to publishing or rebroadcasting any item or work, in whole or in part, held by the Department. For permission to publish or quote from any of our materials, please submit your request via email to the Department of Special Collections.

To be processed, all permissions requests for published materials must include the title of the item from which the selected passages were selected, the call number of the item or collection, and the page number. For manuscript or archival materials, copyright permissions requests must include the name of the collection, the collection call number, and - if applicable - the series, box, and folder number(s) in which the selected materials are housed. Failure to provide such information can greatly slow down the permissions process, and can on occasion prevent the request from being honored altogether.

Please note that Special Collections cannot grant permissions requests for printed works that are still under copyright protection; for such items, the requestor must contact the publisher. Similarly, we cannot grant permissions requests for archival or manuscript collections for which we do not hold copyright.

While we do try to provide patrons with the contact information of the holders of copyright of archival and manuscripts holdings, often we do not have this information on file, nor do we have the staffing to conduct a copyright search for our researchers. In such cases, it is the researcher's responsibility to attempt to locate the copyright holder prior to publishing.

An excellent source of information on current copyrights in the United States is the U.S. Copyright Office, which hosts an online database of copyrights registered and renewed with the Copyright Office. Another resource is the WATCH File (Writers, Artists, and Their Copyright Holders), maintained by the Harry Ransom Center. The Ransom Center describes the Watch Files as a "database containing primarily the names and addresses of copyright holders or contact persons for authors and artists whose archives are housed, in whole or in part, in libraries and archives in North America and the United Kingdom.

Statement on potentially harmful Language in cataloging and archival description

We acknowledge that description is not neutral, nor are we. We aim to describe our materials in an informative and accurate manner that is respectful to the individuals and communities who create, use, and are represented in the collections we manage. However, Stanford Special Collections and University Archives staff created many of our catalog records and finding aids years or even decades ago, and what constitutes appropriate description varies with context, time, and the positionality of the description creator. In addition, because it is common practice to re-use language provided by creators, former owners, and vendors, and to re-use catalog records from other libraries, users may encounter offensive or harmful language in our descriptions.

We are implementing practices to address offensive or harmful language as part of routine description work, and we also encourage users to provide feedback to help us address these concerns. We recognize that terminology evolves over time and that efforts to create respectful and inclusive descriptions must be ongoing.

We strive to prevent harm through our descriptive practices. We work to uphold this value in the following ways:

  • We aspire to be representative of and welcoming to the groups and individuals that we are describing.
    • We seek to disrupt systems of oppression, including racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, ageism, and all forms of social discrimination, through our terminology and framing of people and events. We approach the material we describe with empathy, and focus our descriptions on the subjects of the material.
    • We research how the communities represented in our collections describe themselves and their own histories, consult with other institutions with similar collections, and when possible, contact the people or organizations represented in the materials directly.
  • We acknowledge that we work with such a breadth of material that none of us has complete subject expertise.
    • We consider the specific and unique processing and descriptive needs of our collections and items throughout the process of working with them.
    • We take the time to conduct research and consult with others to fill in gaps in our knowledge.
    • We work with curators, scholars, creators, donors, and communities in our efforts to create culturally sensitive descriptions.
  • We recognize that descriptive standards are not neutral, nor are we.
    • We consult with others to consider multiple viewpoints. We acknowledge our personal biases and unique backgrounds, and consider how our own perspectives affect our descriptive practice.
    • We acknowledge that we use standardized subject terms, including Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), to enhance access to materials. These terms are not neutral, and some are outdated and harmful. We work to provide alternatives to harmful terms whenever possible.
  • We carefully consider potentially offensive or harmful language in our own descriptions, as well as in the materials we are describing.
    • We do not censor the materials in our care, but when they touch on potentially harmful subjects or use potentially harmful language, we work to provide historical context.
    • We aim to clarify when language is provided from another source, including description or folder titles provided by the donor, creator, collector, vendor, or another source, via use of quotation marks around the language, and/or providing additional context.
  • We recognize that this process is ongoing, and we dedicate time to update and address potentially harmful language in our descriptions.

If you encounter language in our catalog records, finding aids, digital object metadata, exhibits, blog posts, social media, or elsewhere that you find offensive or harmful, we welcome your feedback, questions, or concerns.

Resources

Access to personal health information in our collections 

For collections that fall under our Access to Personal Health Information Policy, researchers must apply to the department in advance before consulting archival materials. The policy applies to collections or specific materials in collections that Special Collections and University Archives have identified as containing health information of individuals. If a collection falls under this policy, a note will be placed in the collection's finding aid and online catalog record. To determine whether a collection falls under this policy, please consult the bibliographic record for the collection. For further clarification, please contact Special Collections Public Services.

This policy was adopted by Stanford University Libraries, Department of Special Collections and University Archives, on October 1, 2009 and revised with approval of the University Privacy Office on April 24, 2020; based in part on the National Library of Medicine’s History of Medicine Division’s policy adopted February 17, 2004 and revised May 10, 2004.

Scope

This policy establishes rules for access to health information of individuals found in archival, manuscript, and image collections in Stanford University’s Special Collections and University Archives. The purpose of the policy is to safeguard the health privacy of individuals, while making these holdings available for research to the greatest possible extent. This policy is based on the National Library of Medicine’s History of Medicine Division’s policy.

The creation of this policy was motivated by the implementation in April 2003 of the Privacy Rule [45 CFR 160; 140] of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). While the Library is not a covered entity under HIPAA and therefore not subject to its regulations, the Library nonetheless wishes to establish a policy that reflects the principles of HIPAA's Privacy Rule.

This policy applies to collections that Special Collections and University Archives have specifically identified as containing health information of individuals. In addition, access to archives and manuscripts may be further restricted by the donors of the materials. Irrespective of this policy, Special Collections and University Archives reserves the right, at its discretion, to restrict access in part or in whole to individual health information found in its collections. To determine whether a collection falls under this policy, please consult the bibliographic record for the collection. For further clarification, please contact Special Collections Public Services or the Department Head.

Access to archival materials

Under certain conditions, Special Collections may authorize access to archival and manuscript materials that contain health information of individuals:

  • Materials more than 100 years old are available to all researchers.
  • Individually identifiable health information of those known to be deceased for 50 years or more is available to all researchers, in keeping with provisions of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2013.
  • Where Special Collections is able to make a copy of materials with all personal identifiers masked or deleted, the copies are available to all researchers.
  • If a researcher obtains written authorization for access from the individual of interest, from their legal guardian, from the administrator of their estate, or from the next of kin, the records will be available to that researcher. Please note that Stanford Libraries do not maintain a listing of subjects or their contact information.

Where none of these circumstances pertains, researchers may apply to Special Collections and University Archives for access to such records, in accordance with the following general guidelines:

  • Access will be granted to qualified persons doing historical and other research, using statistical or quantitative methods, or methods ensuring that no individual shall be able to be identified from the results of the research.
  • Researchers who are granted access to restricted records shall agree in writing to maintain the confidentiality of the information and to adhere to the conditions of access imposed by Special Collections and University Archives.
  • In addition, all other persons associated with the research project who will have access to personally identifiable information from the records shall agree in writing to maintain confidentiality of the information.

The remainder of this document provides guidance in implementing these guidelines.

Conditions of access

Special Collections and University Archives may impose some or all of the following conditions of access on any project, while additional conditions may be imposed on the use of specific records or on specific projects, at Special Collections and University Archives’ discretion.

The records may be used only for the purpose of statistical research, the reporting of aggregate research findings, or in such a way that no individual may be identified using the results of the research. The information may not be used for any other purpose without Special Collections and University Archives approval.

  • The records and copies of any data elements which permit the identification of an individual or which can be identified with an individual may not be transferred to any person or institution not directly involved with the approved research project.
  • Reasonable administrative, technical, and physical safeguards, as approved by Special Collections and University Archives, to prevent unauthorized use or disclosure of the information shall be established by the researcher and followed by all persons associated with the research project.
  • Collections shall be consulted only at the Special Collections and University Archives reading room in Green Library on Stanford’s campus located in Palo Alto, California, and not at any other site.
  • During the course of the research project, any individually identifiable information in the researcher's notes or in authorized copies of the materials shall be rendered anonymous by the researcher at the earliest possible time consistent with the purpose of the research project.
  • Persons who are identified in the materials in the course of research may not be contacted by or on behalf of the researcher. (However, this does not preclude the researcher from contacting a person in advance of gaining access, for the purpose of obtaining access.)
  • Prior to publication or public presentation of the data, the final research product(s) shall be provided to Special Collections and University Archives for review. Special Collections and University Archives’ review shall be limited to ensuring that there is no possible identification of individuals in the research findings. Special Collections and University Archives’ will not evaluate the validity of the research findings.
  • Upon completion of the project, all research notes containing health information of individuals derived from Special Collections and University Archives’ archival materials, and/or copies of such materials shall, upon completion of the project, be destroyed or returned to Special Collections and University Archives, whichever condition Special Collections and University Archives has imposed as a condition of access. If the notes and/or copies are destroyed, the researcher shall verify in writing to Special Collections and University Archives that the research notes and/or copies have been destroyed.

Request for access

To obtain access to health information of individuals, researchers must submit and mail a written request to the Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Attn: Department Head, Green Library, Stanford University Libraries, 557 Escondido Mall, Stanford, CA 94305-6064. Requests that are submitted via email or fax will not be considered. Researchers are encouraged to consult with Special Collections and University Archives prior to submitting the request. The request must include the following information:

  • Name and mailing address.
  • Institutional affiliation and position, if applicable.
  • List of publications pertinent to the topic of the research project.
  • References from two persons who have first-hand knowledge of the requester's qualifications to perform the research.
  • A statement of the nature of the research to be conducted and any plans for publication or presentation of the research findings.
  • A statement of the methodology to be used.
  • A listing of all sources of grant funds supporting the research project or its publication.
  • A statement of the administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to be employed by the researcher to prevent unauthorized use or disclosure of the records.
  • A listing of the collections and/or items and series titles to be used.
  • A statement that the researcher will abide by the conditions of access to be prescribed by Special Collections and University Archives and that the researcher will assume responsibility for the action of all persons working with the researcher on the project.
  • A completed signature form.

The researcher should sign the signature form and obtain the signatures of all other persons associated with the research project who will have access to personally identifiable information from the records.

Access review committee

Requests for access to health information of individuals will be reviewed by Special Collections and University Archives’ Access Review Committee, which is composed of the Department Head for Special Collections and University Archives, the Associate University Librarian for Public Services, and the University Archivist. The Committee may consult other persons within and outside of Stanford University who are knowledgeable in the research field for assistance in evaluating a request.

The Committee will examine the request to determine:

  • Whether the requested information is of such a highly sensitive personal nature that disclosure should not be permitted even for statistical or quantitative research.
  • Whether the methodology proposed by the requester will permit the researcher to obtain the projected research results without revealing personally identifying information.
  • Whether the research results will be published or presented at an academic or research conference, or a similar venue.
  • Whether the requester is a researcher who has experience in conducting statistical research projects and publishing articles or books on such research; or a researcher whose presentations and publications demonstrate the ability to protect the privacy of individuals.
  • Whether the safeguards proposed by the requester will adequately protect the personal information.
  • Whether Special Collections and University Archives has sufficient staff and space available to safeguard privacy as it accommodates the research project.

The decision of the Committee will be made in writing to the requester within 30 workdays after receipt of a completed request. At the discretion of the Committee, the researcher may meet with the Committee to discuss the project and may be asked to revise it to meet the concerns of the Committee.

Appeal process

Any decision to deny access to requested records may be appealed to the University Librarian. Appeals must be made in writing and shall be received within two weeks of notification of the denial.

Noncompliance with conditions of access

If the Department of Special Collections and University Archives discovers that a researcher has violated the confidentiality of information or the conditions of access, the Department shall take steps to revoke the research privileges of the researcher and shall consult with the University legal counsel to prevent further disclosure of the health information. The Department may also inform the following persons and organizations of the researcher’s failure to follow the conditions of use:

  • The institution with which the researcher is affiliated, if applicable.
  • Persons who served as references in the application for access.
  • Organizations which provided grant funds for the project.
  • The sponsor of the publication or public presentation.
  • Appropriate professional organizations.