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Research - Archives and Special Collections: Home

Guide for workshop on planning research in archives.

Funding travel

Professional associations, museums, archives and libraries often support research with grants, fellowships, or awards.

UNLV Libraries' Grant Seeking Resources

These resources are available only to UNLV affiliates (require a login from off-campus).

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Finding Collections

Search for archives and collections

Examples of regional cooperative catalogs

Search online resources

Advice from researchers


Research Strategies in Archives and Special Collections

 Do your homework ahead of time: thoroughly investigate the web site of any institution that you are planning  to visit – research and travel are expensive so you want to make sure you get the most out of any research trip and you do as much advance preparation as possible by investigating these topics ahead of time:

 How do you find the collections that may help you with your research?

 ·         Footnote chasing in articles and books related to your topics

·         Checking bibliographies on your topic or related topics

·         Consult subject experts in your field – all the better if one is your professor

·         Check World Cat and/or Archives Grid

·         A simple and oftentimes more precise search today is googling the name of your subject with the words  “papers” or “collection” or “archives” or “records after it. This is not always foolproof – remember that some significant collections can be split between repositories – Wilde as an example

·         Last but not least, ask an archivist/librarian at a local repository for search strategies or ideas


Virtual Research Before You Go:             

·         So you’re interested in a collection XX at University of X? Start by going to their website and exploring the finding aid for the collection.

·         What is a finding aid? To do a rough analogy – it’s like the TOC or the index to a manuscript or archival collection – it enables you to get a general idea of what is

in a collection – it’s important to read the scope and content notes of a finding aid carefully to discover what is and is not in a specific collection.

·         Also important to remember – finding aids may different in the level of detail they provide about a collection – so that may lead you to have questions about what is in a collection – in that case, contact a staff member at the repository to ask about what may be in a particular collection?

·         Are there a lot of staff members listed on the web site? Avoid asking the Head or the Director, if possible, and look for the “reference archivist” or the “public services archivist” or anyone with reference or public services in their title.  Some repositories have a specific email for reference queries.

·         Have patience – they usually try to respond within 48 hours but it may take a few days – they get lots of queries

·         Be aware that many repositories and archives have time limits on how much research they can do for a patron – you cannot ask them to go through entire boxes of material – you can ask them questions like “Can you give me the rough date span on the correspondence in this folder?” or “Can you give me just a rough idea what is in this folder labeled X?” “Are there photographs in that folder?”

·         Some repositories depending on staffing, may be able to give you more help than others – patience and politeness wins over many archivists – and helps you when you eventually visit that repository.


Before you visit:

·         check opening and closing times, vacation hours, holiday hours

·         Is material off site – if so, how long does it take to retrieve?

·         How many boxes can you retrieve at one time? Some archives have limits to how many boxes can be retrieved at one time.


 More practical matters:

·         are low cost local accommodations available / will you have to rent a car to get there?

·         if the archives or web site does not have this information, email one of the archivists to ask – try an administrative assistant or a reference archivist, do not email the head of the department for this information if possible.


What to do when you’re there:

 ·         Find out where you can eat! Really this is important - to keep you fueled for research!

·         If you’ve never been in an archives or Special Collections before, recognize that they have certain rules that govern the use of the materials – it’s nothing personal.

·         Find out about reproduction polices – can you take images with a cell phone camera or an iPad?

·         Make sure you prioritize what you want to see – if you have limited time, order the most important stuff first and then wait to see if you can get through this before requesting the rest of the material.

·         But beware the trap of taking too many images – create a system to organize them – if you are at an archive for several days – download nightly!  Create folders!  Do the same with photocopies.

·         When you return from your research trip – devote focused time to organizing your digital images of archives material – is there correspondence – make sure it is dated.

Head, Special Collections Public Services

Subject Guide

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Priscilla Finley, humanities librarian
Lied Library LLB1187
(702) 570-1338
© University of Nevada Las Vegas