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Introduction to Archival Research

Get started understanding how to find and use archival collections in your school work, professional research, or family research.

How are archives different from libraries?

Black and white photograph of an early CU Boulder library desk, with wooden shelves and bound books behind

Both libraries and archives preserve materials and make them available for research use. However, there are some important differences between them: 

  • Libraries hold copies of published books and periodicals. Most archival materials are rare, unique, or original. They often come directly from the original creators, created in the process of their work or personal lives. Because most archival materials were not created to be published or widely circulated, there may be no other copies anywhere else in the world. 
  • Usually in a library, you are able to browse the shelves and check out material to take home with you. Archival materials - due to their age and rarity - are often kept in closed, climate-controlled storage and do not circulate. Archival collections are made accessible only in supervised "Reading Rooms," to ensure long-term preservation. 

See the "Visiting Archives" tab above to learn more about what to expect when using a Reading Room.

  Image credit: Buckingham Library bookstacks (1904), J. Raymond Bracket collection, University of Colorado Boulder Libraries

Rare and Distinctive Collections


Classroom: Norlin N345

Reading Room: Norlin M350B