Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

HIST 4990 Senior Seminar-Crime, Punishment, and Human Rights (Soper-special collections): Tips and Tricks for Doing Primary Source Research at UGA and Beyond

Tips and Tricks Requesting and Using Archival materials at UGA Special Collections

Before you visit...

Know the Rules
Most special collections and archives have some special rules for using materials that are different from visiting a library.  Generally, these rules  help keep the one-of-a-kind materials safe and accessible by  ensuring careful handling, by maintaining security, and by being responsive to the specific needs of a careity of formats. Each archives or special collections  has specific policies and procedures and its a good idea to check them out before you visit. Check out Russell Library Research Policies and Procedures   

Place Your Order
The Russell Library has online guides ( finding aids)  for all of its collections that are open for research.  You can browse and request the materials you want to come in and look at using any computer or laptop with an internet connection.  You can make requests in advance of your arrival at the special collections building, or you can make requests when you arrive.  There are staffmembers  available in the  research lobby located on the third floor next to the elevators to help you with requesting.

Russell Library is open Monday-Friday from 8-4:45 p.m.

What to Bring with You:

  • Notes from secondary source reading (key dates, key events, key people)
  • A picture id
  • Laptop for note taking (recommended)
  • A digital camera or smart phone with camera to snap images of documents you want refer to again later (you can purchase photocopies too)

What to Leave at Home

  • Pens and paper  (Russell Library provides pencils and paper for note taking.


Tips and Tricks

While You Research

Give yourself enough time to make progress.  It often takes a long time to go through all the materials that you hope are relevant to your topic. Plan to visit when you can spend at least an hour of concentrated work. Note that 4:30p.m. is the last call for making new requests for materials to be delivered to the reading room that same day.

Remember to gather citation information as you look through materials in the Russell Research Room.  This will save time with citations later. Note the following items:

  • Name of Collection
  • Name of the Series
  • Name of the Folder
  • Name of the Item

Tips and Tricks-Keyword Searching

The Archivists' Quest 

Before archives integrated the full magic of the internet, patrons had to browse paper (gasp!) inventories of collections to find relevant materials. They had to read the information at the beginning of a collection finding aid to know which boxes to browse if they wanted to save time, or if they had lots of time on their hands, they could review the entire finding aid until they found something that seemed relevant. This was time-consuming and frustrating to patrons who were looking for something specific in a big collection.

Once archivists moved finding aids online, and better yet,  loaded these finding aids into searchable databases, people could enter keywords and get a quick list of results with the hits for the term highlighted.  There was broad rejoicing among patrons--searching in archives was now fast and simple. Archivists liked the fast simple searching too, but they also noticed that quick keyword browsing often stopped people from discovering related materials described by different terms.

There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth and handing-wringing among these archivists, but eventually, they came to their senses and realized that they could mount a campaign among patrons to reinvigorate the value of browsing and to hone keyword searching skills. No longer would patrons give up when their first keyword search failed to yield good results! Instead, they would brainstorm other ideas for terms to try.  In their free time, patrons would browse finding aids instead of texting and browsing Facebook.  

Make their dream a reality! 

Keyword Search Tips and Tricks

Brainstorm terms related to  your topic

  • Try different versions of the same word (example: Cuba, Cuban)
  • Try terms that are specific and general (example: Athens, Georgia, the South)
  • Explore the variety of descriptive terms that different groups used to describe the same people, events, places, and ideas (example: Civil War vs. War between the States, activists vs. agitators, protesters vs. rabble) 
  • Explore the evolution of meaning of terms over time.  Words that mean something to us today may have different meanings earlier in time or at specific moments in time.  ("busing" in the early 1970s is about implementation of desegregation orders in the early 1970s in the American South, whereas today, "busing" might be about environmental issues related to transportation)
  • Think like a file clerk. sometimes collections are organized by subjects, but often they are organized around dates, alphabetical listings of names, or by the group or individual that produced the records. If you don't find any files called "Cuban Missile Crisis" in a search of a politician's papers from the early 1960s, there is a good chance that there are relevant materials in  a folder called "1962." (The more you know; the MORE YOU KNOW!)

Never Admit Defeat!

  • If you try all of the tricks described above and still don't find what you are looking for, consider browsing the finding aids for materials donated by  people who are likely to be involved  in your topic.  Remember, every finding aid has a biography abotu the person or group that created or collected the materials.  
  • Never be aftaid to ask an archivist for help; that's why we're here. We work for you!