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Special Collections and Archives at Tomlinson Library

Introduction to how to use archives and some of the significant collections and items held in Special Collections and Archives here in Tomlinson Library.

CMU's Special Collections and Archives

Jargon defined

  • Archives - also called special collections, repositories, or record centers - organizations that collect, preserve, organize, describe, and provide access often as part of a larger organization like a corporation, university or public library, museum, or historical society.
  • Archivists - also called special collections librarians - people with advanced education and training in how to manage archives and the material in archives
  • Archival material - also called primary sources - photographs, diaries, letters, documents, reports, books, films, memorabilia, etc. of historical value
  • Finding aids - also called indexes, collection guides, or archival description - provide context about a collection of archival material, including historical or biographical information, the types of materials in the collection, and sometimes a detailed inventory
  • Digital object - digital files created by scanning or digitizing archival materials to be made available online for easy access
  • Reading room - the space where you can conduct your research under staff supervision, separate from where the material is stored
  • Collection - can be used in several ways - typically a group of materials donated or transferred by a person, organization, department, or office, sometimes means a group of materials put together by the archivist or another individual (stamp collection, book collection, etc.)
  • Papers - archival materials belonging to an individual that document that person's life (letters, emails, photographs, diaries, etc.)
  • Records - archival materials that document the essential functions of an organization (policies, important emails, financial documents, etc.)

In-person archival research tips

Quick introduction to archives

In-depth introduction to archives

Quick tips for visiting archives

  • The majority of archival material is not online - it would take hundreds of years and billions of dollars to digitize everything
  • Special collections and archives are typically found in libraries (academic and public), museums, larger historical societies, and government offices (might be called "historical records" instead of archives)
  • Look up the repository (another word for archive) online to become familiar with their hours, forms, policies, and staff
  • Contact the staff in advance by phone or email to introduce yourself, your research topic, and request an appointment
    • An appointment guarantees that they have material you're interested in and that it will be available when you arrive
  • Wash your hands before you enter their reading room so that you don't get oils or dirt on the material
  • If you want to look at photographs or negatives, they may provide gloves for you to wear
  • Bring a pencil, paper, your phone, laptop, etc. but be prepared to adhere to their rules for using these items
  • Some repositories allow photography using your phone but be sure to ask first

Special Collection and Archives Librarian

Profile Photo
Amber D'Ambrosio
Tomlinson Library 338
Special Collections and Archives
Subjects: Art & Design