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What is an archives?
The term "archives" has multiple meanings. An archives is:
- The noncurrent records of an organization or institution, or personal papers of a person or family
- The building or physical space where archival materials are housed and
- The program that manages the care of the archival materials.
What is the purpose of an archives?
Archives collect and preserve materials of historical and enduring value and make them accessible for research and study, today and for future generations.
What kinds of materials are in archives?
Archives preserve materials that document the activities, experiences, contributions, and achievements of an individual, family, organization or institution.
These historical materials may include:
- Personal and business correspondence
- Newspapers and news clippings
- Diaries and journals
- Research notes
- Published and unpublished writings
- Oral histories
- Audio and video tapes
- Electronic records
Most materials in archives are referred to as primary source materials because they are often unique and one of a kind. Typically books and periodicals are considered secondary source materials because they use primary sources to interpret and analyze a historical event or phenomenon. Most scholarly books contain bibliographies or endnotes which list primary source materials used during composition.
What are the definitions of Primary and Secondary Sources?
Found in A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology by Richard Pearce-Moses
Material that contains firsthand accounts of events and that was created contemporaneous to those events or later recalled by an eyewitness.
Primary sources emphasize the lack of intermediaries between the thing or events being studied and reports of those things or events based on the belief that firsthand accounts are more accurate. Examples of primary sources include letters and diaries; government, church, and business records; oral histories; photographs, motion pictures, and videos; maps and land records; and blueprints. Newspaper articles contemporaneous with the events described are traditionally considered primary sources, although the reporter may have compiled the story from witnesses, rather than being an eyewitness. Artifacts and specimens may also be primary evidence if they are the object of study.
1. A work that is not based on direct observation of or evidence directly associated with the subject, but instead relies on sources of information.
2. A work commenting on another work (primary sources), such as reviews, criticism, and commentaries.
Where can I find archives?
Colleges and Universities
There are many types of archives and they can be an independent entity or a unit within a larger institution. Types and examples of archives in the Atlanta area and Georgia are:
What is an archivist?
An archivist is the person responsible for caring for historical materials and managing the archival program. Professional archivists are generally required to have a master's or doctoral degree in library science or history, and a focus in archival administration is desirable. For information on archival education click here . Archivists can also become certified through the Academy of Certified Archivists.
What do archivists do?
Selection and appraisal of materials to determine if they are appropriate for their archives
Acquisition of historical materials of enduring value through donation or purchase, and within an institution through transfer from departments
Arrangement and description of materials so that they can be accessible for research and study
Preservation of historical materials by implementing measures to help ensure the physical longevity of the materials. This includes temperature and humidity control, protection from light, dust, and pests, and reformatting such as preservation photocopying, microfilming and digitization to isolate the original item and provide the reformatted materials for research and study
Securing historical materials to protect them from damage and theft
Providing reference services so that the materials are available for research, study, and scholarship
Implementation of outreach activities to increase awareness of archives and archival materials.
Archivists are responsible for
Who uses archives?
Students, faculty, independent researchers, genealogists, authors, journalists, filmmakers, and museum curators are the primary users of archives.
Generally anyone with a serious research inquiry can use an archives. Those who aren't affiliated with the archives may be required to obtain a visitor's pass and/or complete a registration form. A few archives charge a fee or paid membership or letter of reference to use their archives. Some archives such as businesses that are private enterprises and often have proprietary information may provide primary access to its employees and limited access to others.
What should I expect upon visiting an archives?
Complete a form (register) that provides information on how to contact you and the focus of your research. Also researchers may be required to sign in each day they engage in research in the archives.
Show a current photo ID to verify who you are (e.g., driver's license, student/faculty ID, passport)
Secure your personal belongings away from the research area. Generally only paper or a laptop computer may be taken into the research room
Use pencil only. Pens are not permitted as they can result in damage to the historical materials
Research room will be monitored, generally by a staff person and sometimes security cameras
Materials in the archives do not circulate outside of the archives; the materials must be reviewed in the research room and can not be checked out.
Materials are retrieved by staff for the researcher and only a limited amount of material is available at a time (e.g., a researcher may request to see multiple books or boxes of materials and will be given one (or a few) items and additional items are provided as the researcher completes use of the first item(s).
Photocopies of materials may be available for a fee. Some archives permit researchers to copy materials themselves. Some archives' staff prepare the photocopies; in such cases photocopies may not be ready on the same day as the request.
Permission to publish is required and usually must be requested in writing. Researching materials - including taking notes and acquiring photocopies - are for research and study and does not imply permission to publish. Publishing - including theses, dissertations, exhibits, broadcasts, and display for the Internet - requires permission from the archives and sometimes additional permission from the copyright owner.
Most archives will have rules and regulations that are designed to help secure and protect the collection. Some procedures you can expect:
How do I begin to do research in an archives?
Researchers should begin with published sources such as books and journals. These secondary resources that are often readily available through libraries, provide background and context for the topic of your research interests. Take note of names, dates, organizations, and events as this information is necessary in helping researchers to identify relevant resources to use in archives.
While reading these secondary sources it is important to review prefaces, acknowledgements, introductions, endnotes, footnotes, credit lines, and bibliographies. These often provide useful information about resources the author used in doing their research.
Conduct searches using the following resources:
- The Internet
- Online catalogs at your library (e.g., WOODI - Woodruff Online On-Demand Information, Robert W. Woodruff Library's electronic catalog)
- WorldCat (catalog of books and other materials held in libraries worldwide; this database available in many libraries)
- National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (catalog of manuscript and collections found throughout the United States and its territories by participating institutions)
- Websites of individual archives
Once you have identified an archives that may have materials useful to your research, contact the archives to discuss your research topic and schedule an appointment. You want to ensure that the archives actually has materials relevant to your research. Additionally, archives generally have limited research hours so you want to confirm this schedule. While many archives will accept researchers without an appointment, some archives are by appointment only.
Usually you can contact an archives by telephone, email, fax, or mail. Some archives may accept first inquiries by written requests (mail or email) only.
How do I determine what I want to see in an archival collection?
A catalog record is also referred to as a MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging) record. It provides bibliographic information about a resource. The catalog record for archival collections - also called MARC AMC (Machine Readable Cataloging for Archives and Manuscripts Control) - is similar to the catalog record for a book. The MARC AMC record will include author, title, size and a brief description of content of the collection, date span, location, subject headings.
Finding aids are sometimes called guides, inventories, or registers. They provide an overall description of the content of a collection and often have a folder title list of each box of materials or reel of microfilm. They are often divided into the following sections:
Most archival and manuscript collections are described in a finding aid and/or catalog record.
- Chronological Timeline/ Biographical Note/ Organizational Note - which gives background information on the person, organization, or institution that is the primary focus of the collection
- Scope and Content Note - describes the size and the subject focus of materials in the collection.
- Series Description - describes how the collection is organized, usually by format (correspondence, photographs) or subject (an event, activity, name), and sometimes how the materials are arranged (e.g., alphabetically, chronologically, numerically). Sometimes the series description is included in the scope and content note
- Box List - generally a folder title list of the content of each box.
Where can I learn more about how archives function?
Peruse the following titles and internet sites for additional information on archives:
Hunter, Gregory S. Developing and Maintaining Practical Archives, 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., 2003.
Pearce-Moses, Richard Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology
Yakel, Elizabeth. Starting an Archives. Chicago, IL: SAA and Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1994.
Society of American Archivists Fundamentals Series, II
Society of American Archivists - Publication Catalog