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Archives & Special Collections

This guide will provide an overview of archives and special collections and how to conduct research using such resources.


The purpose of this guide it to provide an overview on locating and conducting research utilizing Archives and Special Collections. In it you will learn

  • What type of materials compose archives and special collections
  • How to locate and visit archives and special collections
  • How to utilize finding aids and request collection material
  • How to locate digital archives and special collections
  • How to access the special collection at SIA-NY Library

What are Archives & Special Collections

Archives and special collections provide users with the opportunity to work first-hand with primary materials, often not available elsewhere. While, the two are closely related they differ in key regards and can be defined as follows : 

Archives contain "materials created or received by a person, family, or organization, public or private, in the conduct of their affairs and preserved because of the enduring value contained in the information they contain or as evidence of the function and responsibilities of their creator, especially those materials maintained using the principles of provenance, original order, and collection control; permanent records." (Society of American Archivists, A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology, 2005).

Special Collections "are often resources in a variety of formats that are distinctive and have intrinsic value to the institution." (American Library Association, Special Collections, 2018). Because of their individualized nature special collections can encompass materials ranging from archives, artists' books, textiles, rare books, posters, photography, electronic files, and more.

Accessing Archives & Special Collections

In general, archives and special collections require researchers to schedule appointments in advance of their visit. Depending on the institution appointments must be scheduled anywhere from 1 week - 1 month. When contacting archives & special collections scholars should, in addition to a brief introduction of themselves, provide a concise summary of the research along with identifying any specific resources they are interested in viewing. This will provide librarians and those in charge of collections insight into how to best assist during the research process and identify potentially useful material. 

Utilizing Finding Aids

Finding Aids are tools that provide a descriptive summary of a particular collection and how to navigate the resource. Archives and special collections utilize finding aids in order to present the scope, content, and arrangement of a particular collection in order to assist users identify and locate needed information. 

Finding aids are useful not only in providing overviews of collections but also in helping users identify and narrow their research interests and needs. They provide detailed information pertaining to individual items that allow researchers and librarians to precisely locate and cite material within a given collection.

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