I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This Research Post comes from the General News Media Research Team, which monitors news media for issues related to archives.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.


Digital cameras, including those on smartphones, and portable scanners have become an important tool for researchers and other members of the public. Allowing visitors to scan and shoot documents with their own equipment saves staff time, discourages the overuse of paper and toner, and produces a better quality image than that of a photocopier, one that can be used immediately. (1) Many research rooms and service desks provide stands for cameras and outlets for scanners.

However, some organizations, especially government agencies, either prohibit the use of cameras or charge visitors fees to use their own cameras to shoot images.

The ACRL/SAA Joint Statement on Access to Research Materials in Archives and Special Collections Libraries states that “repositories should strive to provide access to their holdings at no direct cost to the researcher.” And where this is not possible, fees should not be prohibitive. (2)

In December 2014 Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen handed down a legal opinion stating that Wisconsin court officials should not charge fees to people who make copies with cellphone cameras or scanners. He originally had approved a charge of $1.25 per page. (3) However, Van Hollen also said that court custodians could choose to prohibit users from making their own copies of any sort, in which case the court custodians could charge a fee. (4)

As of last March, 24 of the 31 Wisconsin county clerks who responded to a survey were still charging fees for images shot with personal cameras. An editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal stated, “Even the National Gallery in Washington allows flash photography …  yet here in Wisconsin county clerks of courts still claim that taking pictures of court records risks damaging the documents.” The real issue is money; as the editorial pointed out, that $1.25 per page fee brings in more than $800,000 a year statewide. (5) In comparison, federal courts in the state charge only 10 cents per page. (6)

Those county clerks who don’t charge gave varying reasons. Primarily, clerks don’t feel they have the resources to prevent photography, because the documents are viewable on a computer screen and patrons could simply photograph the screen. In other words, it would be a burden on staff to monitor computer users. (7)

Wisconsin counties are not alone in charging for photography and scanning. To name a few examples, the Colorado State Archives has a $15 per day personal camera use fee, and a $15 scanner rental fee. (8) The Missouri History Museum charges $10 per day for the same. (9) The Maryland Historical Society charges 50 cents per image. (10) A recent article on archives and camera policies in the United Kingdom reported fees varying from 2 pounds to 25 pounds (about $2.60 to $32.50) per camera per day. That article pointed out that not only do these fees potentially hurt student researchers, but since transcribing documents (often the alternative) is so time consuming, it may force researchers to rely on more limited sources, making the quality of research suffer. (11)

Saying that government agencies should be able to prohibit, or charge for, personal camera use because they need the money is an insufficient argument, since there would be a savings in money budgeted for staff time, as well as agencies’ scanning and copying equipment and the maintenance of that equipment, by allowing the free use of personal equipment. (12)

Additionally, federal, state, and local government archives are taxpayer funded repositories of public records, so charging fees for personally made digital copies seems unethical.

Whether an archives decides to charge fees or not, access fees should be clearly stated on the organization’s website. (13) The Ohio History Connection’s site, for example, has a Digital Camera Use Policy that outlines its digital cameras regulations. It is free to use a digital camera without a flash, but scanners are forbidden. (14) And the University of Winnipeg judges whether to allow scanner use on a case-by-case basis, and “a supervision/setup charge may apply.” (15)

Of course, archivists should be aware that sometimes they may need to prohibit personal reproduction devices in order to protect especially fragile or valuable materials. The Huntington Library is one of many rare book and manuscript repositories that performs all reproduction by its staff. (16) Other archives leave the decision to the archivists’ discretion—the Field Museum in Chicago, for example, does this “if copying will either damage or degrade the material, or if donor, acquisition or legal restrictions prohibit reproduction.” (17) Some archives prohibit handheld scanners, on the rationale that putting the pressure of a handheld scanner on top of a document could damage the paper. As stated in Managing Local Government Archives, “The archives should always reserve the right to refuse any technique of reproduction that might endanger the document.” (18)

But in most cases archives and libraries can only benefit from providing free use of personal cameras and scanners to researchers. As an OCLC Research report stated in 2010, “the benefits to researchers, repositories and collections is undeniable.” (19) And as an archivist on the SAA Lone Arrangers list put it, “The amount of time and resources that we’ll be saving by not photocopying is a major payoff in itself.” (20)

Sources Cited

(1) John H. Slate and Kaye Lanning Minchew, Managing Local Government Archives. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016, p. 119.

(2) “ACRL/SAA Joint Statement on Access to Research Materials in Archives and Special Collections Libraries,” accessed August 6, 2016,

(3) Todd Richmond, “Attorney General Says Clerks Shouldn’t Charge for Court Copies Made With Personal Technology,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 30, 2014, accessed August 6, 2016,

(4) State of Wisconsin Department of Justice, Opinion of Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen, December 30, 2014, accessed August 6, 2016,

(5) “Courts Paint Phony Picture to Justify Fees,” Wisconsin State Journal, March 25, 2016, accessed August 6, 2016,

(6) Jonathan Anderson and Sari Lesk, “Want Court Records? Pay Up,” Wisconsin Rapids Tribune, March 22, 2016, accessed August 6, 2016,

(7) Ibid.

(8) “Our Fees,” Colorado State Archives, accessed August 6, 2016,

(9) “Reading Room Procedures,” Missouri History Library and Museum, accessed August 6, 2016,

(10) “Personal Camera Use,” Maryland Historical Society, accessed August 6, 2016,

(11) Nell Darby, “The Cost of Historical Research: Why Archives Need to Move With the Times,” The Guardian, May 23, 2013, accessed August 6, 2016,

(12) Mutschler, Charles V., <> “Re: Camera Use Fees,” October 22, 2015, SAA Archives & Archivists List, <>, accessed August 6, 2016.

(13) Slate and Minchew, p. 118.

(14) “Ohio History Connection Digital Camera Use Form,” accessed August 6, 2016,

(15) “The University of Winnipeg Reproduction Fees,” accessed August 6, 2016,

(16) “Imaging services at the Huntington,” Huntington Library, accessed August 6, 2016,

(17) “Field Museum Archives Policies,” accessed August 6, 2016,

(18) Slate and Minchew, p. 119.

(19) Lisa Miller, Steven K. Galbraith, et al. “ ‘Capture and Release’: Digital Cameras in the Reading Room,’ “ report produced by OCLC Research, 2010, accessed August 6, 2016,

(20) Schergen, Rena, <> “Re: Researcher Camera Policy,” October 24, 2013, SAA Lone Arrangers List, <>, accessed August 6, 2016.

Other Sources

“Digital Camera Use Policy,” Houghton Library, accessed August 6, 2016,

“Archives: Find Resources,” Pratt Institute Libraries, accessed August 6, 2016,

“Digital Photography Policy,” Ukrainian Historical and Education Center of New Jersey, accessed August 6, 2016,

“King County (WA) Copy and Service Fees,” accessed August 6, 2016,

“New York State Archives Fee Schedule for Copies of Records,” accessed August 6, 2016,


The I&A Steering Committee would like to thank the General News Media Research Team, and in particular, Daria Labinsky, for writing this post.

The General News Media Research Team is:

Jeremy Brett, Leader

Anna Trammell

Daria Labinsky

Chelsea Gunn

Meghan Kennedy

If you are aware of an issue that might benefit from a Research Post, please get in touch with us: