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Research Using Special Collections and Archives

This guide provides resources for students, researchers, and instructors who are new to archival research or new to using Special Collections and Archives at the University of Baltimore.

Finding Archival Collections at Special Collections and Archives

Search Our Collections Database to Access Collections Finding Aids

Searching for Collections Finding Aids in the Database

Visit Special Collections and Archives website to access the Collections Database, ArchivesSpace, where our finding aids describing archival collections are stored. Finding aids will allow you to understand the collection. The database includes finding aids for University Archives collections, Baltimore Studies collections, audiovisual collections, and lineage collections at Special Collections and Archives. When you find a collection relevant for your research project you can contact us to request access to specific boxes and/or folders of materials within the collection.

Tips for Searching

  • Within the Collections Database you can search complete lists of Collections, Digitized Materials, Subjects, and Names associated with Collections

  • You can also search by Key Word and limit your search by record types, dates, etc.
  • Within your search results, you will be able to further limit your search


Instructional Video: How to Find a Collection at Special Collections and Archives

Using Collections Finding Aids

What is a Finding Aid?

A finding aid is your guide to understanding an archival collection. A finding aid may be a simple collection description and folder inventory, or it may be a detailed document with a hierarchical structure that includes biographical information, scope and content notes, information about digitized collection materials, and other administrative notes that provide more description of a collection's content and context in addition to groupings of materials and folder inventories. In general, finding aids provide information about the collection and the materials within it in addition to information about the steps taken to manage a collection.

Finding aids are produced during archival processing, which encompasses a series of steps including physical arrangement of materials, description of the collection, and preservation steps taken by the archivist to make the collection accessible. During processing, the archivist gathers information about the collection to include in the finding aid for researchers. Some collections are processed or described in more detail than others, and as a result some finding aids are more detailed than others. Use finding aids to help you navigate through a collection you'd like to use in your research.

Reading a Finding Aid

Remember, finding aids are hierarchical. They may be fairly brief and include a brief overview of the collection and a folder inventory, or they include more detailed information in the overview in addition to groupings or series and subseries of materials that include folder inventories.

  • Look for the Scope and Content note describing the collection contents.
  • Check for an Arrangement note describing how the collection was organized.
  • When working with more detailed finding aids you may need to click on each element to learn more. /
    For example, clicking the title of a series will show the folder inventory.
  • Special Collections and Archives are typically arranged to the folder level and only rarely include item level information. This means each folder will include multiple items.

Tips for Navigating a Finding Aid

  • When you select a finding aid, the first page you will see is the Collection Overview where you will see the Collection name and Identifier at the top of the page. This will include a scope and content note that summarizes the topics and information described in the collection and the types of materials included in the collection in addition to dates, extent of the collection, and further descriptive information about the collection. Be sure to Expand All to view the full description and access a historical note or biographical note that will provide you with background about the collection and/or its creator, and other helpful notes that will assist you when using the collection, requesting materials, or finding information about digitized collection materials.
  • The Collection Organization describes the hierarchical structure of the finding aid. During processing materials are grouped into series and subseries, and then inventoried. While the Collection Overview describes the collection as a whole, the Series and Subseries may include further individual notes about specific groups of materials or folders.
  • The Container Inventory simply provides a listing of the boxes in a collection and an inventory of the folders or items in each box. This may be helpful when requesting materials.


When you find a folder that you'd like to access and request to use for your research:

  • Take note of the Collection Name and Identifier at the top of the Collection Overview page
  • Then note information about the folder including the: Folder name, box and folder location, folder identifier, and any series or subseries locations. See the image below for an example.


Accessing Collections at Special Collections and Archives

Accessing Collections

Step 1 Visit the Collections section of this guide to learn more about the types of materials and topics represented in our resources.

Step 2 Search for collections related to your research topic or interests at Special Collections and Archives using this ​​​​​​Complete List of the Archival Collections finding aids at Special Collections and Archives or search using keywords, subject terms, etc. in our Collection Database called ArchivesSpace.

Step 3 Identify collections, folders, and digitized materials for your research using the finding aids. 
Note collection names, identifiers, folder names, and box and folder locations. This information will help when you contact Special Collections & Archives to request access.

Step 4 Submit Research Questions and Request an Appointment with us online! 

  • During Fall 2020 we are providing virtual research assistance and digitization requests for patrons while the reading room is closed
  • If requesting an appointment with an archivist, please plan to request a date at least 48 hours in advance
  • Researchers can expect that submitted questions will receive an initial response within approximately 24 hours

 Submit your Research Question or Request an Appointment


Accessing Digital Exhibits and Collections

Some collections have materials that were digitized individually or for exhibit purposes. When browsing through digital materials you will want to find the appropriate collection finding aid(s) to learn more about collections and how you might use them for your research.

There area a few different ways to access digital materials from our collections:

  • Or when working with an individual finding aid, you may see notes indicating that there are digitized materials attached to individual folders within the finding aid. At the folder level, records with associated digital objects are identified with a red Digital Object icon (see below) or with a thumbnail image of the digitized itemAt the collection level, collections with digitized materials will have notes (such as the one below) indicating that some items have been digitized. But remember, not all of our collections include digitized content!