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Archives - What are they? How do I use one?

Important Reminders

 When you get ready to start research, remember:

  1. About 99% of the time, archival collections themselves are not online. Only the descriptions of the collections are online.  

  2. Archives are arranged into collections, and collections are sorted into series. Understanding how an archival collection is arranged will help you to find the right material. (See: "How Archives are Arranged" tab on this guide)

  3. When you search the internet for archives, you will actually be searching within the text of Finding Aids and Inventories. It's helpful to know what information goes into these records. (See: "Descriptions of Archives" tab on this guide)

Search Strategies

Start by thinking of some keywords and limits for your searches. Good things to use as search parameters include:

  • Proper names. Having the name of the creator of the sources you need is usually the most efficient way to find them.
  • Places, especially city or state names. Country names can work, but are a little less likely to appear in records.
  • If researching in a language other than English, use that language as a keyword, e.g.: French
  • Genres of material, for example: letters, records, photographs, diaries, manuscripts, interviews.
  • Date ranges. Think of when the material would have been created.
  • A word of caution about using subject keywords: searching by subject is hit-or-miss. Try to use broad terms and combine them with the types of terms listed above.

Places to Search

Search the archives at Goucher College:

Goucher's Finding Aids online

Across the United States & Canada:

    This database covers virtually all libraries and archives in the United States & Canada, but it only searches brief descriptions of archival holdings. Select "Format" = "Archival Material" to limit your search to archival sources.
    This database includes finding aids from several thousand archival repositories across the United States & Canada. It searches through the detailed descriptions of larger archival collections.

Getting Access to the Material

Once you have found something, you need to arrange access:

  • Note the Call Number or Accession Number for the archive and the specific Box or File Number that you wish to see. These are the two key pieces of information that the repository must have in order to retrieve things for you.
  • To visit in person: For archives held at Goucher College, you can generally visit Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and appointments are recommended; email to make an appointment. For other archives, you will need to look up the library's access policies online. You may or may not need to contact the library before you arrive. 

  • If you can't visit in person: most archives can make copies for you. You will probably need to narrow down your request to 100 pages or less of material. To request copies, look on the archives' web site for information on "copies" or "services". Most places post a schedule of fees online.

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