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Archives - What They Are and How to Use Them

This is a general guide to using archival materials - what they are, where to find them, how they are organized, and how to use them. For questions about using the ISU Special Collections and University Archives specifically, click the "questions" tab.

How to Get Started

  • Find relevant materials (see "Finding Materials" tab)
  • Write down the reference code
  • Visit and/or contact the archives

What to Expect

Because archival materials are irreplaceable, fragile, and/or at risk for theft, most archives require the following:

  • use pencils rather than pens
  • don't eat or drink
  • place your bags in a designated spot
  • archives staff bring the materials out to you to be used in a specific room

The Archivist is Your Friend

You will get access to the materials much faster if you contact the archives in advance. Here's why:

  • Off-site collections: Archival materials may be stored off site and staff will need time to retrieve them.
  • Related materials: Even if you have something specific you want to see (and know how to request it), the archivist may have suggestions for other materials.
  • Check the holdings: A lot of collections don't have detailed descriptions. If you're looking for a specific document or piece of information, contact the archives before making a trip so that you won't be disappointed if the collection doesn't have what you're looking for.
  • Services: Check to see what services are available if you may want to make copies, publish from, or request scans or photographic prints.
  • Research Help: Archivists understand that using archives is more complicated than using libraries. We know our collections and are truly happy to help!

Contact Us

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Special Collections & University Archives
403 Parks Library
701 Morrill Road
Iowa State University Library
Ames, IA 50011
515 294-6672