Primary Sources

Finding Archives and Manuscripts in Special Collections at SDSU

Archival research can seem scary or impossible at first, but once you get started it can be lots of fun. Use these tips to find archival collections related to your topic.

1. Use the Finding Aid Database.
The Finding Aid Database allows researchers to keyword search the finding aids of over 250 archival/manuscripts collections in Special Collections. [A finding aid is a detailed description and listing of an archival or manuscripts collection. It is a tool created by archivists to help the researcher identify collections of interest, and boxes or folders of interest within those collections. Finding aids establish biographical or historical context, describe the scope and contents of the collection, detail arrangement, and provide a list of boxes and/or folders.] Your keyword might be found in a biographical or historical note, a scope or content note, a note about the arrangement of the collection, or in the title of a box or folder in the collection.

  • From the front page of the Finding Aid Database, type in your keyword. Use "double quotes" to search a phrase. Click on Search.
  • The search produces a list of collections, subjects, and/or creator biographies where your keyword makes an appearance. Click on "Records and Manuscripts" to see all of the matches.
  • The list of results shows the titles of archival collections. If your keyword appears in the box list for a collection, there will be a link underneath the title that says "Results Found Within Box List." Click on this link to see where your keyword appears in the box list. You can keep track of relevant results by putting items in your Research Cart. Just click on the small cart icon next to each item.Use the Special Collections Research Guides.

2. Use the Special Collections Research Guides.
These research guides classify our book, archival/manuscript, and ephemera collections into their main topics. Explore the tabs above to see these subject guides.

If you are looking for collections related to San Diego history, follow this link.

3. Search the library catalog.
Most of our processed archival/manuscript collections have brief catalog records in the library catalog.

  • From the Advanced Search, type in your keyword.
  • Under Location, highlight Special Collections.
  • Under Material Type, highlight Archival Collection. Click Search, or apply any other limits you'd like.
  • Sort results by Relevance, Date, or Title.

4. Ask a librarian.
Make an appointment with a librarian in Special Collection to discuss your project. We can match you with the collections that will be most productive for your research. Archival research can be daunting, but we can help you with a one-on-one research tutorial. Click on the Main tab for contact info.

Posted: 2009-08-07