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Archival Research: Home

About This Guide

This guide will introduce you to the basics of archival research. You will find information on:

  • What archives are and how they are arranged

  • Conducting background research

  • Where and how to look for archival collections

  • What to expect when you visit an archival repository

  • Citing and quoting from unpublished materials

  • And more

Thank you to Donna Davey of the CUNY Graduate Center who developed this guide

Archival Collection on the Shelf

Archival boxes on the shelves at the Burns Library, Boston College

Image: Tip O'Neil Congressional Papers, Burns Library, Boston College. Used with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 (CC- BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.

Best Practices for Archival Research

  • Read widely in reference and secondary sources on your topic and the time period you are studying to inform your research in archives.
  • Keep a running list of the relevant people, organizations, events, places, dates, and themes you discover in your reading to streamline your archival research.
  • Look closely at the websites of archival repositories to learn about their collections, finding aids, and procedures.
  • Always contact an archival repository before you visit. 
  • Speak with library staff about your topic to fine-tune your research strategy and learn about related materials.
  • Take careful, detailed notes when using unpublished materials.
  • Archival research takes time.  Be sure to plan ahead.

Getting Help

There are many ways to get help from a librarian — choose the method that best suits your needs:

  • In Person: Visit the library Monday - Friday 9:00 - 10:00 pm, Saturday 8:00 - 7:00 pm
  • By Chat: Chat with a librarian during opening ours.
  • By Email: Email us anytime and we'll get back to you within one business day .
  • By Phone: Call us at (212) 3434-1234 x 2001 and ask for research help.
  • By Text: (917) 338-4733
  • By Appointment: Schedule a one-on-one research consultation by calling, emailing or submitting an appointment request.