I recently made my first visit to the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA). This is one in a series of articles inspired by that visit to help you make your first visit to the National Archives.
Records on microfilm are self-service (open stack) and can be accessed at anytime, but original records are not directly accessible to the public, requiring a NARA employee to pull the records from private stacks for patron use. Normal pull times are 10am, 11am, 1:30pm and 2:30pm. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday there is an additional pull at 3:30pm.
A specialist at one of the reference desks must approve your pull request (to see that you've included all the necessary information) before you can submit it. During my visit staff members arrived several minutes prior to the pull time to gather up the forms to allow the pull to start right at the scheduled time.
There are limits on the number of pulls you can submit, but I'm not certain what they are.
Once an item has been pulled for you, it is available for multiple use for several days (I think up to 30), even during extended hours. What you don't want to happen is to find yourself at 2:30pm (3:30pm Wed.-Fri.) with no records pulled and no requests in and nothing to do. (Although even that is not the end of the world. You could still use microfilms and several subscription web sites on the patron computers. Stay tuned for more information about the available records online.)
The Reference Service Slip (pictured below) is used to request a pull of most record types (motion picture, sound recording, maps and generic textual records). You'll use this slip for records you track down in the Finding Aids room.
Military service records use a special pull request form, the Request for Military Records. For indexed military records, you have to consult the index on microfilm and fill out the proper file numbers. Don't worry; there are handouts to guide you through the process and consultants at the reference desk.
In the future I'll talk about the procedure to see the records. I may go through an example in detail.