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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.


Screenshot of webpage reading "Welcome to ArchivesSpace at CU Boulder"

ArchivesSpace is a platform for viewing the descriptive Finding Aids for our archival collections. 

With a few exceptions, you will not be able to access collection material, like documents or photographs, directly on this platform. Instead, you can use ArchivesSpace to learn about our collections, to decide what archival material you would like to request to access.

Use the tabs below to learn more about using and navigating ArchiveSpace. Please don't hesitate to contact us at if you're having trouble. 

Screenshot of ArchivesSpace, with mouse over "Collecting Areas" button

One quick way to locate material relevant to your search is to click on "Collecting Areas" in the navigation bar on the top of the screen. This shows you a list of the major areas of research within the CU Boulder Archives collections. When you click on a collecting area, you will see a list of collections we have relevant to that topic.




When you use the ArchivesSpace search bar, there are several optional search fields: 

Screenshot of search bar on ArchivesSpace site, with fields as described below

Search all record types or Limit to collections

If you choose "Limit to collections," the search will return only a list of collections that contain your search term somewhere in the Finding Aid. 

If you choose "Search all record types," the search will also return a list of individual series, boxes, folders, or items that contain your search term in their description, from within any of our collections.

Search by: Keyword, Title, Creator, Subject, Notes, Identifier We recommend searching by Keyword, unless you know specifically which records you're looking for.
Limit years

You can limit your search to a range of certain years. However - keep in mind that archival material is often listed according to the date it was created, not necessarily the time period to which it refers. 

For example, oral history interviews with retired mine workers in the Art Day Collection are dated according to the year the interviews were conducted (1980s), but much of the content of the interviews refers to their early experiences. Limiting an ArchivesSpace search on "mine workers" to the 1930s-1950s would not return these interviews.

When you receive your search results, there are several additional options for filtering the results, on the right of the screen: 


CU Boulder Libraries shares our ArchivesSpace site with a few other campus repositories, like the Museum of Natural History. You can choose "Special Collections and Archives" to filter results only to our collections.

You can also filter the collections of the American Music Research Center (AMRC) in the College of Music, However, archival material in the AMRC is also overseen by the Libraries' Rare and Distinctive Collections team. You can access and request AMRC material in the same ways you can access our other collections. 

Screenshot of search result filters from ArchivesSpace site, with fields as described on this page

There are two useful choices under type:

"Collection" will filter your results to only a list of relevant archival collections. 

"Archival Record" will show you a list of individual series, folders, or items that contain your search term, from within all of our collections. 

Subject, Language, Name To date, very few of our collection Finding Aids have been tagged with things like Subjects, Languages, and Names. Filtering your search with these fields will not give you accurate results. 

Search results contain a number of information fields: 

Screenshot of search result for Colorado League of Women Voters records, with fields as described below

Title Tile of the collection, series, folder, or item
Type Just under title, the search result will indicate if it's describing a Collection (as above), Series, File (meaning folder - as below), or Item

For collection records, the result will indicate the collection number (COU:###) assigned by the archive

For archival object records, the identifier field may indicate the Box #, Folder #, or Item # in which this record is found. In the example below, the folder titled "National League of Women Voters convention minutes and programs" is located in Box 53, Folder 17.

Sometimes, rather than a box and folder number, you may see a string of numbers that looks like this: COU:464:07:53:17. We are working on replacing these with readable box and folder numbers. In the mean time, you can give that whole number to the archivist when you make a request. 

See the "Troubleshooting" tab above if your search result does not have an Identifier listed

Abstract or Scope/content

The abstract will give a brief description of this collection, series, folder, or item. 

However - you may see a description that starts with "From the Collection" or "From the Series." This means that there is not an individual description given for that particular series, folder, or item. In that case, the abstract field will instead show the most specific description available for that material. 

Dates Shows the range of dates in which material in this collection, series, folder, or item originated.
Found in

These "breadcrumbs" explain where this record falls in relation to other collections and other archival material. The field will include the name of the Repository and Collection, followed by the name of the Series, Sub-Series, or Folder, if available.

In the example below, the folder titled "National League of Women Voters convention minutes and programs" is found in the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries, Special Collections and Archives, in the Edward P. Costigan papers (collection COU:464), within Series 7, called "Family Materials."

Screenshot of search results for National League of Women Voters convention minutes and programs, with fields as described above

Choose a collection record from your search results to see the Finding Aid for that collection. See the "Finding Aid" tab in this guide for more about understanding the parts of a collection Finding Aid. 

Screenshot of ArchivesSpace collection page for Boulder Valley League of Women VotersOn the left, the collection page will show Front Matter information for that collection. Be sure to click "Expand all" at the bottom of the collection page to show additional Front Matter information.


Screenshot of ArchivesSpace collection outline, a dropdown menu of series and folders in the Boulder Valley League of Women Voters recordsThe right of the collection page shows an expandable inventory of material within that collection. Use the arrows on the inventory to see the contents of each series or sub-series, as available. 

NOTE: If you find a collection record that does not include an inventory, that may mean the collection has not yet been processed by the archive or that inventory information has not yet been added to ArchivesSpace. Contact us at, and we may be able to give you additional information about the collection. 

When you click on an archival record - whether series, folder or item - from the search results or from the collection page inventory, you will see a page that describes that object. 

Screenshot of ArchivesSpace page for the file "Marfil binder 1 of 2," with fields as described below

From the top, the object page includes: 

  • Title - of the object
  • Type - whether Series, "File" (meaning folder, as in the example on the left), or Item
  • Identifier or location* - Box # , Folder #, or Item # for this object, within the collection
  • "Breadcrumbs" - this line explains where this object falls within the collection, including the Repository, Collection, and Series. In the example above, the item is in the CU Boulder Libraries, Ann Roy papers, Series 2. 
  • Descriptive information** - Scope and content, dates, and other information relevant to this series, folder, or item

* Sometimes, rather than a box and folder number, you may see a string of numbers that looks like this: COU:1397:02:18:01. We are working on replacing these with readable box and folder numbers. In the mean time, you can give that whole number to the archivist when you make a request. If you do not see a location for this object, see the "Troubleshooting" tab above.

** Often, an individual series, folder, or item does not have its own individual description. In that case, these descriptive fields will refer to the next most specific level of description available, and the description will indicate whether it is "From the Collection" or "From the Series." 

Image of "Citation" button1. Use the Citation button at the top of the collection page to see our preferred method of citing material from our collections.


Image of "Printable PDF" button2. Use the Printable PDF button to generate a PDF version of the Finding Aid, similar to the detailed outline in the "Finding Aid" view above. 


3. Use Finding Aid View tab at the top of the collection record page to see a detailed outline of the collection on one page:


Screenshot of "Finding Aid View" outline on ArchivesSpace page for Boulder Valley League of Women Voters records



If you do not see a location identifier (Box #, Folder #, or Item #) on the object page, you may need to look deeper into the inventory. 

Screenshot of ArchivesSpace page titled "Series 1: History and Organization." Type field reads "Series," but Identifier/Location field is blank

In the example above, not everything in Series 1 is located in the same place. You'll need to look at the individual folders or items within that series to see where each folder is located. 


If you have trouble knowing what to request, you can send us the link to the object record page from your browser when you make your request:


Screenshot of browser search bar with link to object record address 



Rare and Distinctive Collections


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