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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.

Photograph of CU Boulder Libraries archives stacks, long aisle of green metal shelves filled with labeled cardboard boxes

 Whether you're conducting professional research, completing a class assignment, or learning about your family history, the process of finding and using archival material can be difficult and unfamiliar. The idea of visiting the Reading Room of a university, historical society, or other archival institution can be intimidating, and archival collections can be confusing to navigate. 

This resource offers guidance on how to search, access, and understand archives. Use the tabs above or links below to find information, videos, and suggested resources for questions common to both new and experienced archives users. 

Link to: What are Archives; Photograph of archival folders

1. What are Archives? 

Topics include: What is an archival collection? How are archives different than libraries? Why visit an archive? What to archivists do?

Link to: What is a FiInding Aid?

2. What is a Finding Aid? 

Learn how to search within an archival collection, using a descriptive document called a "Finding Aid." Understanding the parts of a Finding Aid will help you navigate the archival collections at most institutions. 

Link to: Access and use of Archival Material

3. Access and Use of Archival Materials

Understand important issues around accessing and using archival materials, including access restrictions, copyright considerations, and requesting access to restricted material.

Link to: Primary Sources

4. Using Primary Sources 

Archival materials are often original, primary source records, documenting people, organizations, events, and historical periods. Understanding the context of the documents and evaluating the perspectives of records creators are important skills for archival researchers.

Link to: Archival Material at CU Boulder

5. Archival Material at CU Boulder Libraries

Learn about the archival collections available at CU Boulder, how to search them, and how to request access. Includes tips on using the Libraries' ArchivesSpace site, the CU Digital Library, and the CU Libraries catalog.

Link to: Finding Archives elsewhere

6. Finding Archival Collections Elsewhere

Unlike library books and publications, there is no centralized database to search for archival collections across institutions. Learn some tips and tricks for finding and accessing archives that hold material relevant to your research. 

Link to: Visiting Archives

7. Visiting Archives 

Are archives open to the public? Do I need to wear gloves? Can I take pictures? Knowing what to expect when visiting an archive can help you make the most of your research time.


Rare and Distinctive Collections


Classroom: Norlin N345

Reading Room: Norlin M350B


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University of Colorado Boulder Libraries Rare and Distinctive Collections
Reading Room (Room M350B)
Norlin Library
184 UCB
1720 Pleasant Street
Boulder, CO 80309

Image credits: University of Colorado Boulder Libraries