Below are tips about using the National Archives resources at the College Park, MD location, based on some visits there by Brian Simboli (Science Librarian). There is no guarantee that the information below is up to date; see National Archives: "Research Our Records" for procedures and policies. See the next box below for additional resources.
While (again) the tips below are applicable to the College Park location of the National Archives, it is likely that at least some of the pointers below also apply to other locations.
Above all: prepare very well in advance of your trip. If you do not, you risk not accomplishing nearly as much as if you had.
It can be very helpful to locate whatever archival inventories are available for the government department of interest. You may find that they provide very helpful details about whatever government agency produced the documents you are interested in. Look in WorldCat (see the database finder off the Lehigh library homepage) for whatever inventories are available. An example of an inventory is
"Presliminary Inventory of the Records of the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion", the National Archives, National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, Washington: 1951.
Also, it can help to email your inquiry to the archivists (see info for doing so at the NA website) so that you get some preliminary guidance about what may or may not be available. The archivists can do some research, but obviously don’t have time to do highly thorough, in-depth research.
When you arrive at the National Archives, you will need to obtain a researcher id. They can be reused for one year.
Use the binders in the index area to find relevant materials.
Note that the material listed in the binders may supersede what you find in the old archival inventories. Do a thorough look over of the binders to see if there are any categories that were not covered in the archival inventories. Talk to the archivists on duty. You will have to fill out inventory tickets, which can be pretty time consuming. Leave enough time to do that.
Get a good sense of how many trucks of material you are permitted to use. If you exceed the limit, your material will not be pulled.
Abide by the many rules for using the material, to a “t”. The people on the floor monitor researchers very closely.
If you are doing photographing, ask for one of the tags to use at your table. Make sure it’s visible. If any of the material is classified, talk to the people at one of the desks. They may give you a label that needs to appear in each photograph.
There are some camera mounts available for use. This can make photographing material much easier esp if you have lots to photograph.
In sum, the more you know about, and abide by, the floor rules and procedures, the better off you will be.