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Accessing restricted documents

What are restricted documents?

You can use most of the original documents we look after by visiting our research room.  But there are a number of documents (less than 5%) that we can't let you use in the normal way - we call them 'restricted documents'.

Why do you restrict access to some documents?

We do this when:

  • A document is fragile and handling it could cause more damage
  • A document is 'born digital' and only available in an electronic format
  • The owner has requested that it isn't made available for research for a while or shouldn't be copied
  • There is a statutory or legal reason that prevents open access to the document

How will I know if a document is restricted?

We're currently improving the descriptions in our online catalogue so you'll know when there are restrictions on something you'd like to look at.  This is a big task and will take some time.  For now it's best to pre-order your documents so we can check for restrictions on your behalf and tell you about any that apply before you visit.

What if I want to use a restricted document?

Whenever possible, we will make special arrangements for you to access the information you're looking for.

If it's a fragile document, depending on its nature and condition, we might:

  • Offer you a copy on microfilm/fiche or DVD or a printed transcript.
  • Set it out for you in our research room, and pack it up when you've finished.  And ask you to use special equipment (eg protective sheets and gloves) while you're using it.  This ensures careful handling.
  • Ask you to make an appointment to use it so we have time to prepare it for you.

If a document is marked in the online catalogue as a 'digital record' we may need up to five working days to make a copy available for you.

If the owner of the document has limited its use we will explain the restrictions and, depending on the document or collection concerned, we might:

  • Contact the owner or their representative to check that the restriction(s) is/are still valid;
  • Suggest an alternative source which might include some of the information you need;
  • Put you in touch with the owner so you can apply for their permission to use and/or copy the restricted items; and/or
  • Ask you to provide details of your research interest to share with the owner.

If access to the document is limited because of a statutory or legal restriction we will explain why and let you know if and how you might be able to get the information you're looking for.  You can find more information about legislative restrictions on our Accessing information that's restricted for statutory and legal reasons page.

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