50 Years of the Pull Slip

Today’s post was written by Alan Walker, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

Can you believe it? April of 1966 saw the introduction of NAR Form 1, the “Reference Service Slip.” This paper (commonly referred to as a “pull slip”) is used to request records and is just as important to researchers and Archives staff as the records themselves.

The only change to it over the years came when the National Archives became an independent agency in 1985, and it became NA Form 14001.

Each pull slip will have four copies that are used in the course of pulling the record from a shelf, serving it to a researcher, identifying the record, and logging that records were pulled. That created a need for easily identifiable color-coded copies. They even come in carboned and carbonless versions:

Carbonless Pull Slip, from Marene Baker

But NAR Form 1 didn’t appear out of nowhere.

64-NA-340 Edith Houbert Retrieves Request from Pneumatic Tube, 1940 - cropped
Edith L. Houbert retrieves a reference request from a pneumatic tube, 1940 (NAID 12168920)

From the beginning the Archives has used some sort of a pull slip for its reference operations. The very first one we used, Form K-3, dates from May 1936. In January 1939, the form was revised, now given the title “Records Requisition.” Both are found in the series Official Forms, 1935-1968 (NAID 4486913), in RG 64 – Records of the National Archives.

By this time, researchers were requesting records not only in the Central Search Room, but in the search rooms of the various records divisions that had been set up starting in 1937.

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In 1943, and again in 1947, the form was modified. This is the 1947 version of NA Form 1, along with its instructions, known as a “handling scheme”:

By 1950, under the aegis of the General Services Administration, we rolled out a new form to more clearly indicate the desired information in its own separate text blocks, a layout that endures in our current pull slip.

Here is a view of pull slips being logged at the desk in the research room, from the film Your National Archives from 1953:

archive vid

The pull slip figured prominently a decade later, when the repeated thefts of archival records by Samuel Matz (AKA Robert Murphy)  and his wife were discovered.

RG 64, P 67, file 1962 - Matz Theft Case from NA, Nov.
Sunday Star, Nov 10, 1963 (NAID 26879151)

The Murphys stole hundreds of documents from the Archives, and in the investigation that followed, every aspect of reference procedures was put under the microscope.

Below is a sample of the pull slips found on records that were in the search room at the time of the Murphy’s visits. The reverse side of form NAR 1, from another sample in the Murphy case file, shows the incorporation of a “record of chargeouts”, which endures in the present version of the pull slip (from the series Planning and Control Case Files, 1943-1976 (NAID 7518524)).

Edwin C. Fishel proved an important witness in the case; he had photographed several of the missing documents before the Murphys stole them from his cart of requested records.

It’s quite probable that the difficulty faced by the Archives staff in identifying those missing records is what led to one of the last major changes to the pull slip as we know of it today: the addition of a specific stack and shelf location.

image of current NA Form 14001
NA Form 14001, 1985

Currently an update to this form is in the works, which will merge elements of the Form 14066 used by the presidential libraries with the Form 14001. Our quest for the best possible holdings security continues.

5 thoughts on “50 Years of the Pull Slip

  1. This post satisfies my archival nerdiness on so many levels…. can we bring back the pneumatic tubes?

  2. Alan, you probably know this, the pension records require the use of a different pull slip than the one for textual records. Those slips definitely go back further than 1966, as the “green” copies sometimes were left inside the pension files in error. During my three years working the Research Room at Archives I, I saw such slips from every decade, with the earliest being 1962.

    1. A few years ago, I found a pension pull slip that was from May 1963. I had been going through a box of pensions looking for one for a researcher, and I found one that didn’t belong in that box. When I went to return it to its proper box, I found the old pull slip. I guess it wasn’t a particularly popular pension.

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