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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

NGS: Are you ready to research at the Library of Virginia?

View of Downtown Richmond over the falls of the James,
taken from the Manchester Floodwall. By Morgan Riley
Whew!  We are in the final countdown to the NGS conference and I am growing more excited each day.  My next few posts are going to be focused on repositories in the city and my tips, hints, and tricks to navigating them.  Trust me, all locals know something that you aren’t going to learn about anywhere else!

Today, I want to talk about the Library of Virginia (LVA) of course.  Who doesn’t want to visit the library while they are in Richmond?  If you said no it is only because you don’t know the amazing stuff you can find there!  Most importantly, make sure you do some pre-research.  The website for the LVA can be a bit confusing, but here are some things to keep in mind while hunting around on there.

For anyone who wants to do research at LVA, please be aware you will have to get a library card.  Without it you cannot request books or make copies (more on these below).  I suggest you read and understand the Library of Virginia Visitors Guide and Library Cards and Circulation Procedures before you come.  The visitors guide gives you a great general overview of the library, where it is, and its services.  However, pay particular attention to the one on library cards.

In state residents may request a library card via mail or email, but be sure to leave 2 weeks for processing.  Out of state residents must do it in person, and in state resident can choose this option too.  Thankfully you can prefill out your application and bring it along with ID to the circulation desk.  Virginia residents must provide proof of residency.  These cards are for people 18 and older, so if you have a child coming with you to do research they will need a parental permission form filled out as well if they want their own card.  Note: if you lose your card there is a $5 replacement fee.

While you are at LVA I am sure you will want to make copies and here are a few things to keep in mind.  Like I mentioned above, you will need a library card to do this, even if you are going to copy it to a thumb drive! Unless they are bringing in more copiers for NGS, expect long lines.  There are only a handful in the library and 2 book scanners.  You can put money on your library card for copies ($0.25 per copy) but note that the machine which puts money on your card will only take Visa or Mastercard and NOT debit cards.  Yeah, that threw me the first time when it wouldn’t take my bank card. 

The search box on the home page is your friend!  Type in your keywords here to pull up information on collections, records, and finding aids.  When you type in GENEALOGY your results will be full of finding aids and articles about genealogical research there.  One article of note is Published Materials for Genealogists.  Make sure you read this, you will thank me later!

Search the LVA catalog is a link under the “For The Public” section.  This is the LVA catalog.  Search it from the comfort of your own home, the terminals at the library, or over the library Wi-Fi when you get there from the LVA page.  Via keyword search you can look for books, records, manuscripts, images, and more.

When you receive results from your searches take note of the format and location for each item.  This will be important when you arrive on site, particularly the location.  Much of the LVA collection is not accessible by the public.  Unless it tells you which reading room, or section of the 2nd floor the item is located, you will need to request the item. This will take a library card.

The books you will need to request will be labeled as located in the “Closed Stacks.”  This is upstairs only accessible to staff.  If you would like to look at a book from the closed stacks you will need to request the book, or books, from one of the two reference desks.  The librarians will send the request upstairs, and depending on how busy the library is, you will have a 10+ minute wait.  How do you know your books are ready to be picked up?  Glad you asked!  There are TV screens around the 2nd floor that show the queue for requested books.  When your books are ready, your name will appear, and you can go to the circulation desk to pick them up. 

You may check out 15 books at one time and you must present your library card to pick up the materials.  Out of state residents may only look at books in the library, but in-state residents will actually have circulating books check out to them for 28 days at the time of pick up.  Just return them to the circulation desk when you are finished.

If your item is a manuscript in the “Archives and Manuscript Room” you will need to go there and request the time from the archivist on duty.  The item may not leave that room, so be prepared to stay.  You can read about the policies for the archives and map research rooms in this PDF from the LVA website.

Microfilm and Microfiche are located on the west side of the library next to the archives reference desk. There are banks and banks of film.  They are very well labeled and the staff is always friendly so don’t be afraid to ask for help.  They have about 30 readers and you will have to register to use one (clock in and clock out).  The readers are digital thankfully so no hand cranking!  You can record images directly to a thumb drive on these as well.

Finding a listing for “Online Material” however is very good.  That is information you can research at home and not have to worry about doing it there.  By simply clicking on the title link for the item it will take you to its details page.  This page contains the link to viewing the image online.

Virginia Memory is an online collection of digital images you should check out before you get to Richmond.  Not only are there some amazing exhibits and historical items there, but A LOT of useful ones too.  This would be a blog post by itself, but here are a few collections you might find interesting:
·         Broadside collection
·         Chancery records
·         Civil War map project
·         Cohabitation registers
·         Confederate Pension Rolls
·         Dunmore’s War Payroll/Claims
·         Legislative Petitions
·         And so on….

If you need a break or a quick snack, there is a small cafĂ© on the first floor.  The food always smells so good when you are upstairs, it really is unfair at times.  Also, the Virginia Shop is on the west side of the main entrance to the library.  Here you can pick up some great Virginia specific publications (and others) that the LVA has produced.  Check them out online too so you don’t have to cart a whole bunch of stuff home!

Like I said, there is a lot to do there, and a lot you can do at home to prepare for your trip!  I would start now if I was you.  Good luck!

Map to the 2nd floor of the Library of Virginia.
Floor plans are available at the library from the 1st floor information desk.


  1. Thank you for the info. I will be in there Monday and Tuesday before the conference.

    1. You will have a great time. Glad you found this information useful!

  2. I spent three days there last July. Surely wish I could go again this summer! Yes, the food is as good as it smells!

    1. It is a great place! Hopefully you will get to go back in the future.

  3. Thanks for your tips! Truely appreciated!

  4. Thank you for this great info! I will be there on Monday and Tuesday as well and the heads up about the Library Card is much appreciated! You mentioned the long lines for the photocopiers ... do you know if taking photos with a camera/cell phone is permitted?

    1. Yes they are, and it is done all the time! Get yourself a great scanner app for your phone too (I like Genius Scan) and you can turn our images into searchable PDFs.

  5. Another great tip - I will check out that app. Thanks! If a book is listed in Closed Stacks/2nd Floor Reading Room, are there copies in both locations? BTW, your In-Depth Richmond book is great!

    1. Closed stacks means that it a book you will have to request, 2nd floor reading room is "closed" room meaning books have to stay in there to be read. It may be that the rarer copy is in the reading room and the one you can check out is upstairs.

      So glad you enjoyed the book!!

  6. Great - thanks again! One last question ... any tips on items in the Archives & Manuscript Room?

    1. There are a large number of items that you can access there. A lot of it has been digitized and places online or on microfilm. What you have access to in that room is what the archives has not copied yet. You can find maps, diaries, letters, court cases, pensions, and more.

  7. Awesome - thanks again for all of your tips! I am looking forward to NGS and researching at the library!