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Research Guides

Finding Aids

Finding Aids for University Archives

What is a Finding Aid?

Collections of unpublished personal papers, organizational records, and historical photographs are described and inventoried in detailed guides known as finding aids. A finding aid helps the researcher to identify boxes or folders of interest that may be retrieved from the stacks for study.

Prepared by the staff, the typical finding aid provides background information on the organization, person, or family who created the papers or photographs, an overview of the collection and its arrangement, and a detailed container list.

Not all of our finding aids are currently available online. If you don't see what you are looking for, please be sure to check with Reference Services for assistance.

Catalog and Indices

UW Libraries' online catalog

Search Tips:

  • Departmental Histories were often done as dissertations or books. Use the Department as a search term in the Subject field. (e.g. University of Washington. Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity.)
  • Correspondence, reports, memos and meeting minutes also provide information about the history of the University. You can use a specific office as a search term in the Author field. (e.g. University of Washington.  President for one of the most complete sets of records or University of Washington. Board of Regents for the oldest set.)
  • To get an effective search of Special Collections, constrain the Advanced catalog search by location. To do this, select "Seattle Campus Libraries" under Scope and "SpecialColl, Manuscripts" under Location. You can also select "Archival and MS Collections" under Publication Type to limit the format.

Cumulative Name Index (CNI) and Cumulative Subject Index (CSI) (Available in the Special Collections Reference area only)

Indices maintained through the 1970s that include names and subjects found in the Special Collections manuscript and archival collections.

Comprehensive Guide to the Manuscripts Collection and to the Personal Papers in the University Archives (University of Washington Libraries, 1980)

This volume includes brief descriptions of organizational records and personal papers held in Special Collections before 1980. Over 2000 collections are described, including collections highlighting African Americans, Northwest Art, Japanese Americans, Jewish Americans, North Cascade History, and Scandinavian Americans. The volume is a compilation of pre-1980 NUCMC entries (see below) for Special Collections.

Indexes to Campus Photographs (Available in the Special Collections Reference area only)

These printouts of negative numbers cover photographs from the mid 1940s to the late 1960s. The online Digital Collections is the best resource for photographs up to the 1940s but only contains a percentage of what exists.

Reference Services

If you have an Accession number and wish to see specific materials you can visit any time Special Collections is open. None of the collections are directly browseable except for our Reference Collection. Some items may require an appointment to view. Please plan ahead and be flexible about scheduling.Check the Special Collections Department page for location and current hours.

About the Collection

Records of the University of Washington identified as having permanent historical, research, administrative, legal, and/or fiscal value. They exist in diverse formats, such as photographs, negatives, slides, motion picture film, maps, prints, and drawings, microfilm, audio and video materials, CDs, and some electronic records. 

Tips for Using Special Collections

Research using Special Collections material is different from more typical library research.  The unique nature of the material dictates that there are stricter security procedures -- users need to register, manuscript materials need to be requested, personal belongings are placed in lockers, photocopying is limited, etc.  The following tips can help you when using the material in Special Collections:

  • Check Special Collections hours, they are open fewer hours than the rest of the library.
  • Read the Special Collections pages: Help for Our Users and Using the Collections.
  • Do preliminary research first so that you can place the manuscript material in historical context.  Since manuscripts tend to be either personal papers or organizational records, it is essential to know the important people and groups associated with your research topic.
  • Make sure the collections you need are housed on site.  Some collections are kept off-campus and must be requested prior to use.  If this information is not provided in the online finding aid (or if there is no online finding aid), contact Special Collections to check.
  • Peruse the online finding aid, if available, prior to using this collection so that you can identify the boxes and folders you will need to examine.
  • Allocate sufficient time.  Research using these materials takes time.