The focus of this class requires you to work in both familiar and unfamiliar territory. Not only will you be conducting 'everyday' research in books, articles and virtual sources, but now you are expanding into archival research. Many scholars never work in archives, but there are exceptional resources in these special collections. For successful research outcomes, it is important to understand the wonders and limitations of working in archival sources.
First, archives have some basic differences in how they operate and their fundamental principles from libraries. This generates different guidelines on collection content and access.
Note the term "special collections". You will see this term used sometimes interchangeably with "archives". They are related-- archives and special collections are generally capturing history. But a special collection can be materials assembled from many creators with a common subject where archives are generated by an individual or entity and may cover many subjects. In many institutions, the two are housed together and share the same access and usage rules.
Comparing Libraries to Archives/Special Collections
Materials are published in multiple copies
|Most items are unique|
Collect a broad range of information, for entertainment, business, education purposes and each item stands on its own
|Narrow focus on specific collections and primary purpose is historical research, important as a group of related items in a historical context|
Building is generally open to anyone and materials can be taken from building
|Access by appointment, some archives require reference letters, materials do not leave reading room|
Weed as needed to keep collection current
|Nothing discarded except in the most extreme circumstances|
|Materials handled with care, but wear and tear is expected|
Conservation is a primary concern, requiring special containers, climate control, and handling
|Collections are generally open and browseable|
Materials are kep in locked space and retrieved on request
|Individual items are organized by subject or author using Library of Congress, Dewey Decimal or MESH standards and discovered using an electronic catalog|
Collections of items are organized by provenance (creator) and may be searched using finding aids and consultation with the archivist
|Digital resources are through licensed user access (databases and e-books)|
Archival collections, if digital, are generally free access.