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.
Understanding access restrictions Culturally protected records Making FOIA and other requests
Copyright and use Citing archival material  

This guide provides some preliminary information about legal issues like Copyright, Fair Use, and Public Domain. These sources do not constitute legal advice. You are responsible for making your own educated judgments when using copyrighted material.

Understanding access restrictions

Archives work to collect and preserve material in order for them to be accessed and used as historical evidence. However, there are some circumstances where restrictions on access and use are necessary, according to state and federal law and the ethical standards of the archival profession. These circumstances may include: 

  • Protected, Personally-Identifiable Information (PPII) -  Certain types of private information about individuals are legally protected from public access, including Social Security Numbers, medical and health information, student academic records, and employee personnel files
  • Classified or closed records - Some government, legal, or corporate records may be closed for a designated period of time to protect what is considered national security or the intellectual property of private companies
  • Donor agreements - When a new archival collection is acquired, the archive may agree to restrict certain types of information for a designated period of time, to protect the privacy of the collection donors and their families
  • Cultural protections - Some information held in archives, particularly information from or about Indigenous peoples, may be restricted according to cultural protocols for knowledge sharing. See the "Culturally protected records" tabs above for more information.
  • Preservation risks - Access to some documents or media may be restricted to protect the physical condition of the original items. In this case, a copy - or "facsimile" - may be created to allow a researcher to see the material without risk to the physical condition of the original
  • Unprocessed collections - When a new collection arrives at an archive, there is a period of time that archivists need to rehouse, arrange, and describe material (see "What do archivists do?" in the "What are archives?" tab above). New collections may not be made accessible to researchers until a basic level of arrangement and description is completed and major preservation issues have been addressed

Consult the collection Finding Aid and the policies of the archival institution to learn about the access and use conditions for the collections you would like to see. 

Rare and Distinctive Collections


Classroom: Norlin N345

Reading Room: Norlin M350B