Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Southern Maryland Studies Center Research: How to Start Researching


Plan Your Research Strategy

Whether you are a writer or student, genealogist or local historian, successful use of an archives depends on a carefully plotted research strategy. Your strategy should allow adequate time for background research, establish which archives hold relevant collections, and include a work schedule which considers the extent of the material to be consulted.

Many patrons are very knowledgeable about the topics that they research, having built up quite a lot of subject knowledge by doing research over many months, if not years. If you are just starting out with your research, or you are doing some research outside of your usual field, it is best to start with some background reading about the subject online or in the library first, before delving into the archives.

In the immortal words of the Boy Scouts: Be Prepared!

Use Available Resources

  • Check out the SMSC’s website and Facebook
  • Call ahead, or e-mail the archivist

Above all… read secondary sources on your topic! Check out our Resources page for some general secondary source materials you can find in the library here. If our library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, Interlibrary Loan it! ILL is great way to make the world your library.

In addition, the books in our Maryland Collection are in the main College Library Catalog. Any item that has an "Md" in front of the call number is part of the Maryland Collection. All of the Maryland Collection and Archives materials are non-circulating, but there are additional circulating copies of some Maryland Collection books located in the main College library. The Maryland Collection stacks are next to the College Library’s reference books. Some of the books in the Maryland Collection are considered Rare Books. They are kept within our documents room and can be accessed with the help of the archivist.

Speak With The Archivist

The main key to successful research is getting the archivists to help you.

Just as you need subject knowledge before beginning your research in the archives, it is important to understand the subject knowledge, and limits therein, of your archivist. Contrary to popular belief, the archivist is not omniscient.

Asking the right questions is key to getting good answers! The first step to this is not being reluctant—ask the archivist directly! Some ideas include:

  • Give us a brief background of your subject—abstract form, please! Too many details might distract us from the root of your search.
  • Tell us where you’ve already been! This means other repositories, databases, and reference materials.
  • Tell us your plan of attack! In other words, tell us your goal for this research visit.