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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.

Why visit an archive?

Photograph of architectural plans for a large mountain house

Image credit: Material from the Jules J.B. Benedict collection, University of Colorado Boulder Libraries

Because archives contain primary source evidence of historical events, people, periods, and areas, there are many different ways they are used by archives patrons:  

  • Academic researchers and students use primary source evidence to support their arguments in books, articles, and papers. In addition to history students, archival material is useful to researchers in media studies, literature, social sciences, and many other fields. 
  • Families often consult archives for genealogical research, to learn more about their ancestors and family history. 
  • University alumni and community members visit archives to revisit memories from their own lives.
  • Artists and creative writers draw on archival material to develop projects and incorporate historic images, media, and writing into new creative works.
  • Businesses draw on archival material for new marketing and messaging.
  • Advocates and lawyers use archival material as evidence in legal arguments, to ensure accountability of elected officials, and to advocate for social and political causes.
  • Local planners and architects consult archival maps, blueprints, and other documentation when determining property ownership and planning new constructions

Many archives are open to all users, whether their research is academic, genealogical, or personal. However, some archives are restricted only to scholarly researchers and may require a university affiliation or summary of research project to access. Contact the institution you would like to visit to learn about their access policies. 

Fall 2021: Libraries hours, service updates

All five campus libraries are now open. Read about open hours and other important service updates.

Rare and Distinctive Collections


Classroom: Norlin M350B

Reading Room: Norlin E1B43