Skip to Main Content

Introduction to Archival Research

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

What are archives?

The word "archive" or "archives" can used in many ways. The two we consider in this guide are: 

  • A building where historical records are kept, whether a library, historical society, or government repository
  • A collection of historical records that are preserved for their value as historical evidence

An archive generally contains collections of original, historical documents, photographs, media, and other materials from individual people or organizations. Items within archival collections can include: 

letters and correspondence architectural drawings photographs, slides, and negatives
financial and business records maps audiovisual media
published books and periodicals posters  objects, artifacts, and textiles
original research data artwork digital files

Archival material can also be referred to as: 

  • Records - referring to documentation created in the course of regular work or functioning of an organization
  • Personal papers - referring to material created by an individual in the course of their life and work, including correspondence, diaries, and original writing
  • Manuscripts - often referring to hand-written material or writing drafts that were never published
  • Special collections - Though often referring to collections of rare books, some institutions hold archival material within a broader category of "Special Collections"

Rare and Distinctive Collections


Classroom: Norlin N345

Reading Room: Norlin M350B