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HIST 4990 African American History Dr. Diane Morrow (Special Collections): How to Approach Archival Research--Some Tips and Tricks

UGA Special Collections archival research resources

Archival Research at Special Collections

Special Collections materials are stored in a hi-density vault on sitePatrons should come to the 3rd flr. of the Special Collections Blg. to do research

How to Request Archival Materials from Russell Library or Hargrett Library Collections

A Few Rules and Some Explanation 
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 variety of formats. University of Georgia Special Collections  require that all researchers agree to abide by rules governing handling and use before accessing materials and to provide photographic identification (driver's license, passport, or student identity card). Researchers can review the terms of this access when they create a research account either online or in person at the third floor reference lobby.

How to Request Materials 


Both the Hargrett Library and the Russell Library have online guides to their collections. These guides are called finding aids. Hargrett Library and Russell Library each maintain separate search gateways that let researchers enter keywords to search across all the available finding aids for instances where their search term  appears in the text of  each collections finding aid.

Once researchers identify a folder or a box of material of interest, they may request that box by clicking the  REQUEST MATERIAL button located on the upper left of the page, then clicking the small check box located  to the immediate left of the box listing, and then returning to the upper right and clicking SUBMIT REQUEST button (for Russell Library), or REQUEST MATERIAL  (for Hargrett Library). 

Once researchers complete these steps, the system will take them to a login page for the research account.  First time requesters may register as a researchers at this time while those who have registered previously may simply login in. Researchers may make requests in advance of their visits to do look at materials, or they may make requests using the research lobby computers.  There are staff members  available in the  research lobby  to assist with making requests. 


Tips and Tricks-Keyword Searching

Keyword Search Tips and Tricks

Brainstorm terms related to  your topic

  • For views of Georgians the best keywords to try are:  constituent, correspondence, opinion polls, forum, citizen, views, letters
  • 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! 

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