New to archival research? | Webster University

New to archival research?

Using materials from an archives for research is much different from doing research with library books and periodicals. It may be useful to become familiar with how archives work and the kinds of materials they contain before you begin your research. In particular, note that:


  • Archives are responsible for permanently preserving the historical records of an institution such as a university.
  • You will work closely with the archivist to determine which materials may be related to your research. Most archival materials are not listed in library catalogs and are not found on the Internet.
  • Materials cannot be borrowed and some restrictions on use usually apply.
  • You will be asked to observe careful handling procedures. Some items may be too fragile to use.
  • Archival materials are usually primary sources that were created in the time period you're researching.
  • Archival materials are usually unique, one-of-a-kind items that must be protected with special measures because they cannot be replaced. Typically you must request materials through the archivist as items are kept in secure storage areas.

The following explains archival repositories and materials and give an overview of how archival materials are used by researchers.


Archival Research Tutorial

This guide from the York University explains the unique nature of archives, gives tips on how to get started, and shows you how to read a finding aid.


Using Archives: a Practical Guide for Researchers

This guide from the National Archives of Canada briefly reviews the differences between libraries and archives, how archives are organized, how you should plan your research visit and what to expect once you arrive.