A review of the National Archives and Library in Tehran, Iran.
The National Archives and Library of Iran (سازمان اسناد و كتابخانه ملى ايران, Sazman-e Asnad va Ketabkhaneh-ye Melli-ye Iran) is Iran’s largest research center, housed in a sprawling complex in Haqqani and Mirdamad in Tehran, as well as a number of branches scattered around Tehran. The Archives also have satellite branches in provincial cities. According to its website (http://old.nlai.ir/Default.aspx?tabid=471), the Archives and Library hold a vast number of textual and visual sources, including over 1.7 million books, in addition to over one million dissertations, manuscripts, photographs, and other documents.
This review will focus on the main branch of the National Library (ketabkhaneh-ye melli) and its main archives site (sazman-e asnad). Although the complex is called “The National Archives and Library of Iran,” it is not all held at a central site. In fact, the main National Library and National Archives buildings are separated by a highway and about a mile of walking.
I suggest getting to the National Library by Tehran’s beautiful metro. Take the red line and get off at Haqqani. Once you exit the subway station, there are vans specifically for transport to and from the library that charge 2,000 toman (at the time this was written, 3,000 toman was equivalent to $1) per way. These vans run regularly (see schedule here). The van will drop you off at the National Library entrance, where you will need to present identification. Bring two types of identification – they will hold on to one to let you in. If you are an Iranian citizen, bring your birth certificate (shenasnameh) and your social security card (kart-e melli). Once you have a National Library membership card, you will no longer need alternate forms of ID to enter and exit the premises.
If you would like to primarily work at the National Archives building, you may consider taking the red line to the Mirdamad stop and walking about a half mile to the building. To enter, however, you will need your membership card, which can only be issued across the highway at the main National Library site.
With membership, you can enter and exit the buildings on site, borrow books, and request documents for research. Membership is a multi-step process, especially for those going for research from abroad, and can prove to be cumbersome and inefficient. It helps to be patient with the process and to exhibit respect towards the staff.
Before you go to the National Archives, you will have to go to the Ministry of University Student Affairs (vezarat-e umur-e daneshjooyan) (http://www.saorg.ir/) to get a stamped and sealed introductory letter addressed to the National Library. To obtain this letter, you will need to provide the Ministry with government-issued forms of identification (passport, drivers license, birth certificate), university ID, and a letter from your advisor on university letterhead. Alternatively, you could use your diplomas from a graduate-level program. I was not asked to show my Master’s diploma, but I had it handy with me in case they asked for it.
Once you have this letter, you can make your way to the National Library. You will need to show identification and proof of university affiliation again, so bring all your documents in addition to the letter with you. Ask to be directed to the membership office, where there are people who will help you get membership. They may ask you to leave your letter so it can be reviewed by the director and ask you to return the next day.
Membership at the National Archives is issued in three, six, or twelve month periods, and start at 15,000 toman for three months. Once approved, membership cards are issued on the spot.
The collections at the National Archives have been streamlined in a computer catalogue called RASA (English: http://old.nlai.ir/Default.aspx?alias=old.nlai.ir/en; Persian: http://www.nlai.ir/). The archivist will give you a paper chart for you to write down the title and catalogue numbers for your desired documents – this will be for your own use, so make it as detailed as your citations need to be. Once you have completed this, the archivist will give you a separate sheet of paper to request your documents.
The computerization and emphasis on technology at the National Archives takes away from the glorified image of a historian hunched over her pile of yellowed documents in a drafty library. Instead, you may never see the actual documents. The personnel at the National Archives will scan the requested documents for you within a week to a month of your original visit. You can review the documents, and if you would like them, they will save them to a CD for you and charge you 200 toman a page.
Nota Bene: The records held by the National Archives have largely been centralized at the Tehran branch. I had the opportunity to do some research at the Isfahan branch, but was informed that they had recently sent most of their documents to be catalogued in Tehran. I believe this is a growing trend amongst the provincial branches, but be sure to check in advance. The RASA catalogue is operative across all branches, so you will be able to see which of your documents are held in Tehran as opposed to other places.
Like most archives, the National Archives has lockers for you to store your belongings. Because the archives provide scanned images, the archivists ask that phones and cameras be left in a locker. Be sure to bring a lunch, since there are no food options in close vicinity.
Women: wear a neutral colored manteau and a black maghnaeh (special headscarf worn in educational settings). Although you will see native Iranian women pushing the limits of acceptable attire in an educational setting, challenging the dress code as a foreigner might hurt you, depending on the bureaucrat who processes your paperwork.
National Archives and Library of Iran (سازمان اسناد و كتابخانه ملى ايران)
National Library: Tehran, Shahid Haghani Highway, after the Haghani Metro Stop.
National Archives: Tehran, Mirdamad Blvd, before Madar Square, at the end of Shahid Behzad Hesari (S. Razan) St.
Department of History
University of Pennsylvania
Image: National Archives Building in Tehran, Iran. Photograph by author.