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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.

What do archivists do?

Photograph of two archival boxes full of neatly labeled folders

Image credit: University of Colorado Boulder Libraries

In addition to collecting new material and helping students and researchers to locate materials, much work done by archivists involves preparing archival collections for researcher use. This is called archival processing. It involves three things: 

  1. "Rehousing" - Because archival collections are acquired directly from their original users, they are not always stored in ways that are good for physical preservation. Archivists work to put collection materials into new boxes, folders, photograph sleeves, and other archival containers, to better preserve material in the long term. 
  2. Arrangement - Archivists arrange collection material into sections - what we call "series" - to help researchers understand and identify what types of material are contained in the collection. To preserve historical context, our standard is to retain archival records in the original order they were kept by their creator. In this way, the series we choose reflects the original context of the collection as best as possible.
  3. Description - Because archival collections do not come with indexes or tables of contents, archivists work to create a guide, called a "Finding Aid," that describes the arrangement of series, boxes, and folders within the collection. The Finding Aid is like a roadmap that helps a researcher navigate a collection. See the "Finding Aid" tab above to learn more about using an archival Finding Aid.

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Rare and Distinctive Collections

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