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Archives and special collections: A guide to resources on the Web

C&RL News, March 2003
Vol. 64 No. 3

by Tanya Zanish-Belcher

Digital access and the Web have altered the landscape of archives and special collections permanently and allowed increasing numbers of users to locate and access archives and other rare materials. Throughout history, documents, manuscripts, and rare books were reserved for an in-house elite number of scholars. Now there are no limits, except time and expense, on primary resources being made available electronically worldwide.

This change in perspective has also affected those with the responsibility of managing special collections and archives, resulting in many new opportunities for access to materials all over the world, connectivity and communication with other repositories, access to professional archival resources, and new methods of outreach to the public. This outreach includes an increased sharing of collection information, digital documents, and virtual exhibits with a wide variety of researchers. Digital access also invites new generations, such as K–12 students and National History Day participants, to explore one-of-a-kind resources that were formerly hidden away.

General resources for archives and special collections
Archivists’ Daybook. Sponsored by the Society of Southwest Archivists, this Web site consists of an in-depth calendar of events relating to archives from 2003 through 2007. Included are related conference dates and locations, workshops, grant information, and historical tidbits of information concerning our archival past. Access:

COSHRC logoCouncil for State Records Coordinators (COSHRC). COSHRC, sponsor of the report “Connecting the Archival Community,” has targeted ways the archival community could communicate and collaborate especially in the area of education. This Web site provides a wide variety of information relevant to both archivists and nonarchivists, including links to the Archives Resource Center (to be redesigned and renamed this year). The Resource Center provides links to technical information regarding education, how to use primary resources, and the status of state records programs, as well as professional field links to glossaries, resource directories, and archival organizations. Access:

Ready, ‘Net, Go! Archival Internet Resources. As noted in its introduction, this Web site is an archival “meta index,” or index of archival indexes, by which the user can reach major indexes, lists, and databases of archival resources. Of great value for any user who needs an overview, there are links to master lists of archives, tools such as collection guides and other Web resources, archival catalogs on the Web, and guides to professional development in the archival profession. Access:

Professional associations
Society of American Archivists (SAA). Founded in 1936, SAA is North America’s oldest and largest national archival professional association of 3,400 members. The Web site contains an employment bulletin, a publications catalog, annual meeting information, and opportunities for continuing education. In addition, the Web site’s Education Section lists the library and history programs that provide training in archives in the United States and Canada. Access:

ACRL’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS). For anyone who works with manuscripts or rare books, the RBMS Web site provides news of interest, conference information, memberships and committees, standards and guidelines, and links to related groups. Of particular interest are the standards and guidelines, security information, and “What is a Rare Book?” Access:

A Directory of Regional, State, and Local Archival Organizations in the United States. This directory contains listings for the strong regional archival organizations, as well as state and local organizations. Access:

Other related professional organizations
Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA). AMIA is a rapidly growing organization of those working directly with archival motion picture film and video. Interest groups with links on the Web site include those who digitize film and video. In addition, there is also ordering information for AMIA’s Compendium of Moving Image Cataloging Practice, as well as links for cataloging examples from the participating repositories. Access: http://www.

Association for Information Management Professionals (ARMA International). ARMA focuses on records management issues, and their Web site states, “Today’s information management professionals must possess content skills, an understanding of how and why data is created, who should have access to it, and when it should be destroyed.” There are links to legislative and regulatory standards, membership information, and frequently asked questions. Access:

National Association of Government Archives and Records. Many archivists work in governmental repositories. NAGARA's Web site contains resources relating to the specific issues and problems of government records, such as the preservation of electronic records and legislative changes. There are links to related organizations, annual meeting information, and to newsletters such as "NAGARA Clearinghouse." The Clearinghouse gives news and reports related to records issues. The Web page also includes response letters and statements written to governmental agencies stressing the viewpoint of NAGARA members. Access:

National Council on Public History. The National Council on Public History Web site has links to membership information, conference materials, publications that are available, and an online newsletter with updates of interest in the field of public history. Access:

Oral History Association (OHA). Many archivists and special collections staff have the responsibility of creating and preserving oral histories. While including regular organizational information, such as conference materials, membership, electronic list details, and available publications, OHA’s Web site also contains links to other oral history Web sites as well as basic guidelines and standards for conducting oral histories. Access: http://omega.

Continuing education
The Archivist’s Toolkit (Archives Association of British Columbia). “Designed as a community resource for use by those working primarily in small and medium-sized archives,” the Archivist’s Toolkit provides a wide range of links to areas of interest, such as “Establishing an Archives,” “Arrangement and Description,” and “Appraisal and Accessioning.” Access:

Introduction to Archival Organization and Description: Access to Cultural Heritage (The Archivist’s Primer). This Web site gives an excellent overview of the archives profession and is well worth a visit by anyone interested in the topic. The table of contents details the subject areas, such as archival theory, standards, and workflow, which includes a description of collection processing, a tutorial that follows an archivist through his or her work, and resources for further reading. Access:

Northeast Document Conservation Center: Preservation 101. This online course provides articles and readings on the practice of preservation, from practical storage matters to disaster planning. The Web site also includes a glossary, care and handling guidelines, and sources for further reading. Access:

Rare Book School (University of Virginia). Rare Book School, located at the University of Virginia, is a unique opportunity for continuing education in the history of printing, the care of rare books, bibliographic cataloging, bookbinding structures, and even the provision of digital images and Encoded Archival Description (EAD). This Web site provides application and financial aid information, available courses, evaluations from past courses, and course reading lists. Access:

Grant opportunities
National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The National Endowment for the Humanities is a federal grant-making agency, and much of its funding is dedicated to areas that directly affect archives and special collections. Of special interest is Preserving and Creating Access to Humanities Collections that directly relates to many aspects of archives and special collections work. Access:

National Historical Publications and Records Administration (NHPRC). Operated by the National Archives, the NHPRC's mission statement notes that its purpose is "to ensure understanding of our nation's past by promoting, nationwide, the identification, preservation, and dissemination of essential historical documentation." Recent grant awards have included reports on the status of state records and processing projects focusing on the papers of Frederick Douglass, Margaret Sanger, Marcus Garvey, and Dwight Eisenhower. In 1999, NHPRC announced a new initiative intended to focus on archival expertise in the preservation of and access to electronic records. Access:

Electronic lists
Archives Listserv. This unmoderated electronic list is sponsored by Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and is open to participants. The subjects vary widely, but include discussions of basic and in-depth archival questions, such as the calculation of linear footage for archival records, job announcements, and ethical questions. The archives digest is also available at the Web site, which allows visitors to examine previous postings by subject. Access:

RBMS. The RBMS list is devoted to ACRL’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS). The RBMS list is unmoderated and membership in the list is open to anyone who wishes to join. Access:

ExLibris. The ExLibris electronic list is a news and discussion group for those interested in and working with manuscripts, rare books, and special collections. Access:

Catalogs and guides for archives and special collections
Archives USA. ArchivesUSA provides access to more than 130,000 archival collections. The catalog includes items in National Union Catalog Manuscript Collections from 1959 (searchable in electronic form), nearly 5,000 direct links to finding aids for archives collections, collections descriptions, and repository information. Access:

A Geographic Guide to Uncovering Women's History in Archival Collections. This Web site, a project of the Archives for Research on Women and Gender Project at the University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries, provides a geographical listing of states in the United States with brief descriptions and links to archival repositories containing archival collections relating to the history of women. There are also links to international repositories. Access:

National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. The National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections is supported by the Library of Congress, and offers the service of submitting MARC catalog records to the Research Libraries Group for archival collections located in U.S. repositories that do not have access to either OCLC or RLIN. Information is available on submitting records for catalog, a listing of participants for the last six years, links to both OCLC and RLIN, and lastly there are information links for archivists on organizations, grants, Encoded Archival Description (EAD), electronic lists, and preservation. Access:

Repository Listing of Primary Sources in the U.S. A listing for repositories, there are over 5,000 Web sites in this list focusing on manuscripts, archives, rare books, historical photographs, and other primary sources for the research scholar. It is organized geographically by region and by state. Access:

Library and Archival Exhibitions on the Web (Smithsonian Institute). This Web site provides links to online exhibits created by libraries and archival repositories. There is a search engine available that allows users to search by exhibit title, institution, or subject terms. Access:

Mapping the World of Women's Information Services Database. There is another international project, focused on women collections, titled, "Mapping the World of Women's Information Services database." The International Information Centre and Archives for the Women's Movement maintains this database. Patrons can search the database, which is updated weekly, can be searched by name, country, subject, sort of organization, and other key words. Access:

UNESCO Archives Portal: An International Gateway to Information for Archivists and Archives Users. This Web site currently contains 4,781 links to archival repositories, organized by subjects such as architecture, university archives, municipal, military, and family. Within these categories, the entries are then organized by country and city. As research becomes increasingly international, this Web site will provide access to worldwide users. Access:

• University of Houston Special Collections Web Resources. Special Collections Web Resources provides an excellent overview of the resources that comprise a resource for the archival profession. The listings include organizations and associations, electronic discussion lists, institutes and agencies, and book dealers. This is a good place to start to familiarize oneself with the field. Access:

Selected archives and special collections Web sites
These Web sites were selected primarily as examples of the wide variety of American repositories.

• Amistad Research Center. The Research Center, located on Tulane's campus in New Orleans, focuses on the history of African Americans. Their Web site offers links to a wide variety of areas of interest, including information about the Research Center itself and the Amistad incident, an alphabetical list of their manuscript collections, lectures, membership information, and program and lecture information. Access:

• Colorado Digitization Project. This Web site is an excellent example of how to display and manage digital images and documents, but also how to provide users with a context as well as information and guidelines for digital projects. Researchers can search for images under a variety of subjects related to Colorado Culture, and a new project, "Western Trails," is a collaborative digital project between Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming. But the most important part of this Web site for archivists and others is, again, the background information on how to manage digital projects. There are essays relating to setting priorities, metadata selection, and scanning procedures. Anyone interested in digital projects would be well advised to read through this section. Access:

• Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. Duke has a wide variety of unique primary documents and their Web site makes every effort to provide information about them, or in many cases, digital access to them. There are links about the library, including finding aids to collections, digitized collections and other documents, and numerous virtual exhibits. The digitized collections, consisting of text, diaries, correspondence and other documents, and oral histories, focus on advertising, American sheet music, the women's liberation movement, African-American and Civil War women, and access to Duke's Papyrus Archives of 1,373 papyri from ancient Egypt. The exhibits focus on topics such as slave narratives and memorabilia from American Presidential campaigns. Finally, there are numerous guides provided on topics, such as history course, women's studies, African Americans, economists, Greek manuscripts, the Vietnam War, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and religious materials. Access:

• Maryknoll Mission Archives. Religious archives play an important role in documenting the U.S. religious experience, and the Maryknoll Mission Archives Web site demonstrates the types of records than can be available for researchers. As noted on the Web page, the mission of the archives is to "preserve and make available the legacy of Maryknoll's participation in the worldwide mission of the Church." Indicative of a majority of archival Web sites, however, while the scope of the collections are described, there are no links to finding aids or collections descriptions, with the researcher being dependent on the archives staff. This tendency is probably most common in archives and special collections sites at smaller colleges and universities, county historical societies, and religious archives. These smaller organizations do not necessarily have the means to provide this level of access, while researcher expectations for digital access to digital finding aids, and oftentimes to the documents themselves, is rapidly growing. Access:

• Online Archive of California. In contrast, the Online Archive of California, a component of the California Digital Library, is a good example of a new trend in archival access, dedicated completely to digitized and electronic documents contributed by a variety of participating repositories. Finding aids to collections of primary sources and digital versions from approximately 100 repositories, such as the University of California systems archives and the Huntingdon Library) are included and a search engine allows users to search using collection numbers, collection inventories or descriptions. In addition, there are subject oriented digital collections of images and documents, focusing on a particular aspect of California history, such as the Free Speech Movement, the Japanese-American Internment Program during World War II, and cased photographs from the mid-nineteenth century. For other repositories contemplating digitization, the Web site offers guidelines and describes project management. Access:

• Oregon State Archives. Many users of archives are genealogists, and state archives repositories provide access to the records they most need. Oregon's Web site details its legislative handling of records, virtual exhibits focusing on Oregon history, collaborative digital projects with other Oregon repositories, but also includes a section specifically dedicated to genealogists. This portion of the Web site includes guides and indexes to records at the archives as well as topical research aids on adoption, the census, land records, military, and vital records. The unique photographic tour of the archives also demonstrates another value of Web sites, allowing the visitor to become physically familiar with the location prior to a research visit. Access:

• Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room, Library of Congress. While most repositories will not contain the depth and breadth of the Library of Congress' collections, their Web site is well worth examining. It offers basic information about actually visiting and using the Reading Room, as well as links to digitized collections, such as the popular American Memory series. Their finding aid descriptions for their archival collections, include the papers of Susan B. Anthony and Walt Whitman, dime store novels, the WPA's ex-slave narrative collection, and incunabula (books printed between 1455-1501). Access:

• American Memory (Library of Congress). The American Memory project, a grant program, has funded digital access to topical collections in archives throughout the United States. To locate collections, the Web site provides topical subjects, such as agriculture or technology, geographical locations, or a chronological time period. The agricultural collections, for example, contain digital images from Nebraska, Nevada, and West Virginia, and document the Dust Bowl, and the Depression. Access:

• Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University.
The Special Collections Department Web site at Princeton University is well organized and provides information about its department and collections, research services, exhibitions, catalogs, databases and finding aids, opportunities for fellowships, and news. Access:

Wisconsin Historical Society. This major Web site provides an overview of areas available for researchers. For many users of state and manuscripts repositories, the use of vital records is of great importance. From the main page, there is a constantly updated link focusing on military records, an online genealogical reference service, and birth and death records. In addition, the website provides links to its archival collections, historic sites in the state, resources for local history and kids. The archival collections area contains links to digitized images, and the Society's catalog and other finding aids. A unique segment refers to the Area Research Center Network, which is a cooperative arrangement with repository sites located at UW campus libraries, which serve a specific geographic area in Wisconsin. The Network has a courier service between the repository sites that allows the borrowing of collections. Access:

Tulane University Special Collections. The Tulane University Web site demonstrates the variety of collections that an archival repository can hold, and how valuable electronic access to them can be. There are links to the collection areas for the department, including Manuscripts, the University Archives, the Architectural Archives, the Jazz Archives, the Rare Books, and the Louisiana Collection. The Web site also includes rotating dispatches for Dept. news, a Speaker's Bureau, Archives 101-on introducing students to using primary documents, and virtual exhibits on the science fiction and fantasy collection and "The Golden Age of Carnival." Access:

Utah State Historical Society. An archives Web site dedicated to state history, the Utah Historical Society website contains links to databases, holdings lists, registers and inventories, and an online catalog for books, manuscripts, and photograph collections. Of special interest are links to the Utah Historical Quarterly and special Web sites containing articles and essays dedicated to specialized topics in Utah history. Access:

Of special interest
The Academy of Certified Archivists. In the archival profession, archival certification is a much discussed and constantly debated issue. Regardless, it is important to know about archival certification as a career option, and the Web site will give those interested an overview of the history of certification, basic information about what certification is, taking the archives exam, and recertifying. Access:

ARL Collections Program—Special Collections. The Association of Research Libraries’ Web site has several links of interest related to special collections, including a task force, a 1998 survey, and a 2001 symposium. Access:

COOL: Conservation OnLine. One duty of those responsible for archives and special collections is the consideration of preservation in all aspects of archival work. From appropriate storage and climate control, to recommendations for conservation work, preservation is an integral component of archival work. The COOL Web site provides links to organizations, research work, and topics such as copyright, continuing education, digital preservation, disaster planning, environmental controls, and suppliers. Access:

Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). This organization and its Web site provide much valuable and needed information for those working with unique primary sources. Its sponsored publications (many available online) focus on making collections available to users, special preservation issues, and digital issues. CLIR’s latest report focused on the state of preservation programs in college and research libraries in the United States and their other reports have focused on digitizing research collections. Access:

Digital Library Federation (Council on Library and Information Resources). As archives and special collections continue to plan digital projects, it is an excellent idea to take a look at the Digital Library Federation website, operated by the Council on Library and Information Resources. It gives basic information on starting projects, standards that should be considered, and relevant publications and readings. Of special interest is the collection link, which contains collection development strategies and current collaborative alliances documenting digital activities, and the preservation link, which provides links to Web sites focusing on the complexities, issues, and problems of digital preservation. Access:

Encoded Archival Description (EAD). Encoded Archival Description (EAD) was developed at the University of California at Berkeley, and its goal was to create "nonproprietary encoding standard for machine-readable finding aids such as inventories, registers, indexes, and other documents created by archives, libraries, museums, and manuscript repositories to support the use of their holdings." Access:

National History Day logoNational History Day. Another benefit of the new public relations component of archives and special collections is the increasing use by K–12 visitors. Although these patrons will require time and attention from the archivist, this new generation of users sees the value of primary documents. The Web site for National History Day details the contest and themes, and also provides links for both teachers and students. Each state has a coordinator, and it is to the advantage of every repository to become involved in some small way, even by simply providing selected digital images on a Web page or reproductions of original documents for students to use. Access: http://www.


American Archivist. This semiannual journal, published by the Society of American Archivists, contains scholarly articles on archival theory, case studies, book reviews, and the minutes of SAA Council meetings. Access:

Archival Issues: The Journal of the Midwest Archives Conference. Archival Issues, published twice a year, focuses on many aspects of the archival and information professions. First-time authors are encouraged to submit articles. Abstracts and contents are available in PDF form from the Web site of the Midwest Archives Conference, and there are currently plans underway to provide the journal online. Access:

Archivaria. The Association of Canadian Archivists publishes Archivaria, which focuses on Canadian and international archives. Solicited articles can include studies of documentation, theoretical discussions, communication issues among archivists, and book and exhibition reviews. Access:

Journal of Archival Organization. This new Haworth-published quarterly journal contains articles relating to all aspects of arrangement and description, the processing of collections, and how access is provided for users. There will be a special emphasis on emerging technologies, including digitization and how it will impact archives as a whole. Access:

Library and Archival Security. This Haworth-published journal provides much-needed discussion and overview of security issues in libraries and archives, such as “physical security; data and communications security; relevant legislation; disaster preparedness and recovery; and studies of related social, legal, and ethical issues.” Access:

Provenance. This journal, published by the Society of Georgia Archivists, has many articles relating to various aspects of archival management. Recent issues include articles on moving archives, case studies, research use, oral history, and electronic records. First-time authors are encouraged to submit articles for consideration. Access:

RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage. RBM, formerly known as Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarianship, is published by ACRL. There are articles on special collections as a part of our cultural heritage, collaboration within the profession, the impact of digital technologies, and collection development. Access:

Restaurateur: International Journal for the Preservation of Library and Archival Material. An international journal, published quarterly, focuses on the many aspects of preservation, both technical and managerial. The majority of articles deal with technique as well as new developments.

About the Author
Tanya Zanish-Belcher is head of special collections and university archives at Iowa State University, e-mail: