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Research Guides

Women & Labor: Using Primary Reference Sources

Guide on women and labor

UW Special Collections Reference Tools

Finding Aids for Special Collections

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Collections of unpublished personal papers, organizational records, and historical photographs are described and inventoried in detailed guides known as finding aids.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.

Databases and Online Lists

Detailed listing of Special Collections Search Tools including online databases, digitized collections and bibliographies.

For information on finding specific items by format (books, periodicals, photographs, architectural records, maps etc.) consult the Special Collections How do I find...? guide.

UW Libraries Catalog

Some of the collections are not listed in the online finding aids. Searching the Libraries online catalog provides another point of access into our collections. 

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.