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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.

Types of archives

Archival collections may be found in a number of different types of institutions: 

College and university archives  College and university archives usually include institutional history, as well as collections on local and area history and collections on subjects that are specialties of faculty members on campus. College and university archives are often accessible to public users, regardless of their affiliation with the university. 
Corporate archives  Found in businesses and corporations, documenting business history and policies. Corporate archives are usually only accessible to people within the company. 
Government archives  Hold official materials from local, state, and national government bodies. Government archives are accessible to the public to facilitate accountability and advocacy. 
Tribal libraries, archives, and museums Many indigenous communities hold material documenting their own local cultural and governmental histories. Tribal archives may be open to public researchers, though some material may only be accessible to tribal members, tribal elders, or other specifically designated groups, depending on their cultural protocols for knowledge sharing
Historical societies Historical societies are usually non-governmental, non-profit organizations that collect material on a particular region, historical period, or subject. Archival collections at historical societies are often accessible to public researchers. 
Museums  Unlike most research archives, museums generally focus on preservation and exhibition of artifacts, rather than storage of records for research use. Some museums do allow research access to closed collection material that is not on display.
Religious archives Records held within religious organizations. Religious archives may or may not be open for public use, depending on the policies of the organization or institution
Community archives Some archival materials are collected, preserved, and overseen by small, grass-roots organizations. These archives often focus on regional history and local communities, like racial and ethnic groups, LGBTQ people, or immigrant communities. Community archives are often created by people from historically marginalized groups, who do not feel their histories represented or supported by traditional government and university institutions. 
Digital archives Most online digital collections are created and overseen by the types of organizations listed above, displaying material scanned or digitzed from their broader physical collection holdings. Some digital archives are founded and directed solely as internet repositories of digital material, available only online

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Rare and Distinctive Collections

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