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Southern Maryland Studies Center Research


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 or the tabs in this guide for more information about available resources.

You may also want to read secondary sources on your topic, such as:

  • Check out SMSC's Resources page for some general secondary source materials you can find in CSM's library. If our library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, request it via Interlibrary Loan (ILL).
  • Maryland Collection (non-circulating): books in this collection can be found via the CSM Library Catalog. All items in this collection have "Md" in front of the call number. Most of the collection is located in the stacks next to the library's reference books, but some are considered rare books and kept in the documents room.

Help from 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.

For Faculty

What we offer:

  • Assistance to identify and access relevant materials available online that can be applied with specific or interdisciplinary emphasis.
  • Support to design learning modules that develop and improve reading, analysis and critical thinking skills, research strategies, and inspire and stimulate student’s curiosity.
  • Reference assistance and guidance to navigate large repositories of archival materials, documents, books and more, such as the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, and other online resources.
  • We will do our best to adapt our work to the instruction tools you prefer to use!