Information for researchers | Presbyterian Historical Society

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Information for researchers

In-person research is currently available by appointment only.

The Presbyterian Historical Society’s reading room is open to the public. We welcome everyone to use our collections regardless of affiliation, background, or the nature of your research. Below you will find information about scheduling an appointment and guidelines for using the reading room and collections to help make your visit successful, efficient, and comfortable. 

In-person research is available by appointment only. Click here to schedule an appointment. 

Please contact the reference staff at or 215-627-1852 if you need assistance scheduling an appointment.

Researcher Agreement

You will be asked to sign one Researcher Agreement Form per year, which outlines guidelines for using the collections and conducting research in our reading room. The agreement form is available to read (below) and download (PDF).

Reading Room Environment

  • When you arrive, a locker and key will be offered to you. Please store all personal items, such as briefcases, laptop cases, book bags, camera bags, and handbags/purses in the lockers. There is a coat rack near the lockers where you are welcome to hang your coat. The Society is not responsible for any valuables left unattended in the reading room.
  • The reading room can get cold. You may bring in a sweater, cardigan, or small jacket to help keep yourself comfortable, but please leave large winter coats, rain jackets, etc., on the coat rack or in your locker.
  • There are several workstations available in the reading room. Depending on the number of researchers working in the reading room, staff may need to assign you a seat or ask you to shift to another table.
  • Aside from some reference publications in the reading room, all collections are maintained in closed stacks. Please ask staff for a call slip to request materials.
  • Please allow time to return research materials to the reference desk before closing. Retrievals end 30 minutes prior to closing.
  • Please silence your electronics while you are working in the reading room.
  • To protect the collections, we do not allow food, beverages, or tobacco of any kind in the reading room. You are welcome to use the benches outside our building to take a break and eat your lunch.
  • Please check with staff before leaving collection materials at your workstation during lunch or extended breaks.

Handling of Collections

  • To ensure the integrity and preservation of the collections, please maintain the existing sequence of records. Remove only one folder from a box at a time, using the placeholder provided by the staff. Keep the records within each folder in their original order. If materials within the folder appear to be out of order, please alert a staff member rather than rearranging the folder contents. The number of boxes, files, or publications given to you at one time may be limited.
  • Please use only pencil; pens, markers, post-it notes, and adhesives can permanently damage the collections.
  • Please take care to avoid taking notes on top of archival materials or holding them in ways that will tear, fold, or otherwise damage them. Do not place collection materials on your lap, on chairs, or on the floor. To avoid accidental damage to fragile materials, handle loose sheets, bound pages, and photographs by their edges and avoid touching the surface as much as possible.
  • The staff will provide you with cotton gloves for handling photographs and foam supports for rare or fragile books.

Personally Identifiable Information in Collections

You may encounter Social Security numbers, educational records, and medical information that should be restricted in accordance with our Access Policy. This is more likely to happen when accessing unprocessed collections and Biographical and Personnel vertical files. In particular, biographical and foreign missionary vertical files often include recommendation forms, in-service job evaluations, educational records, and medical and psychological forms for living people. Staff will make their best effort to redact or pull this information from files before providing access to them, but this is not always possible. If you come across this type of information, please alert the staff and do not record, photograph, reproduce, or disclose it.

Digital Camera Use and Reproductions

You are welcome to use your phone, tablet, or digital camera to take photos of collection materials for research purposes. Your images may not be published or disseminated without permission from the copyright holder. It is your responsibility to obtain permission. Scanners, flash, and flood lights cannot be used as they can damage the collections. Take care to keep accurate citations of the materials you photograph, including accession numbers/call numbers, box, and folder/volume numbers. Staff will not inventory or retroactively reconstruct your research. 

You may also speak with a staff member about our photocopying and digitization services. Reproduction requests may be denied based on preservation concerns or U.S. Copyright Law. For some collections, we require use of microfilm copies in place of originals when microfilm copies are available, and the originals are at risk. At the judgment of the staff you may be asked to print copies from available microfilm although the originals may be used for research purposes.

Privacy Disclosure

The Society is committed to the safety and security of staff, researchers, and visitors. Please be aware that there are two security cameras in the reading room. Applicable laws regarding library theft are posted in the reading room. 

Some patron data (including but not limited to the information provided in research and reference interactions, forms, and collection database accounts) and security camera recordings of the reading room may be retained and accessed at the discretion of the Presbyterian Historical Society staff for administrative and security purposes. We do not sell or otherwise distribute personally identifiable patron data except where required by law.