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Latina/o Mexican American Studies (LMAS)

This guide is intended for those completing the LMAS programs and certificate.

Archives and Special Collections

Archives or Special Collections can provide wonder primary resources to compliment your research. Using them can be a unique experience and in most places is slightly different from doing non-archival research, though much of the procuress are the same. Each archive will unique rules and collection procedures so it is a good idea to be familiar with the archives in general as well as research the rules at the archive that you want to visit.

The UNT Libraries Special Collections department collects and preserves rare and unique materials including rare books, oral histories, university archives, historical manuscripts, maps, microfilm, photographs, art and artifacts. Students, faculty and the public are welcome to access collections and view special exhibits in our Fourth floor Reading Room. They also have Special Collection Librarians that can assist you with using the materials. 


The Library at the CUNY Graduate Center (Davey, Donna. 2019) has an excellent guide on archives, findings aids, using archives and special collections. The following information comes from their guide verbatim.

The New York Public Library succinctly defines archives as "the records created by people and organizations as they lived and worked."

  • Archives usually consist of unpublished materials that accumulate organically over the course of time and that are preserved for the enduring value of the information they contain, for their value as artifacts, or as evidence of the work or activities of the creator.

  • Archival collections can range in size from a single item to hundreds of boxes and contain just about anything that was created or saved by a person or organization.

  • No two archival collections are the same.  And no single repository or collection will contain everything on a topic.

  • The unpublished materials in archival collections are usually one-of-a-kind and exist only in the collection where you found them. The unique nature of the materials is what makes them so valuable to researchers and distinguishes them from ordinary library items. Thousands of libraries may hold copies of particular novel, for example, but only one can hold the original first draft of that work in the author’s hand.

  • The vast majority of the unpublished archival material that exists in libraries, historical societies, and institutional repositories is not available online. You can readily find descriptions of collections on the web, or images from collections on the web and in library databases, but the materials themselves for the most part will be found only in their original format in folders and boxes in archival collections around the world.  


Archival Descriptions and Elements of a Finding Aid

Archival materials are described at the collection level in documents called finding aids or collection guides.

  • Finding aids are written to give the repository intellectual and physical control over their holdings and to help researchers find what they are looking for within collections.

  • Finding aids can take many forms and range in detail from a brief summary of a collection to an itemized list of its contents, to a card catalog, but most finding aids will fall somewhere in between. The level of detail and description depend on the resources of the repository and the collection itself.  Not all finding aids are online.

No two archival collections are the same, so no two finding aids will be the same, but most comprehensive electronic finding aids contain the following elements:

  • Descriptive Summary – The basic bibliographical details you would find in a library catalog record, including the repository, creator, title, date, abstract describing the subject matter of the material, quantity of materials, and call phrase (the collection number assigned to the collection by the repository).

  • Biographical / Historical Note – Information on the creator of the collection, including significant historical details that provide context for the archival materials.

  • Scope and Content Note – A brief description of what’s contained in the collection, including the types of materials and the subject focus of the collection, with highlights sometimes mentioned.

  • Arrangement – A list of the series into which the collection is organized, or a brief description of the organization of the materials, i.e., “The collection is arranged by type of material, then chronologically.”

  • Access Points – The subject headings, including names, organizations, topics, places, document types, family names, occupations, and other terms, under which the collection is indexed.

  • Administrative Information – Provenance of the collection, access and use restrictions, copyright notices, preferred citation, related materials in the repository.

  • Container List – A list of boxes, folders, and volumes in the collection. You’ll need to know the box and folder numbers to request materials at the repository.

  • Finding aids may also include: Series descriptions, a list of items separated from the collection, and notes on related collections in the repository.


Want to Know More

For more information on archives and how to use them, visit the Archival Research page provided by the The Library at the CUNY Graduate Center (Davey, Donna. 2019) or ask a librarian at the UNT Libraries Special Collection department.

Davey, Donna. 2019. "Archival Research: Archives & Finding Aids." The Library at the CUNY Graduate Center. 


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