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Research Resources: Class Guides

HIS 360: History Workshop: Methods and Practice

What are Archives?

Archives are the non-current records of an organization or institution preserved for their continuing historical value.

In a broader sense the term archives is often applied to any records, documents, or unpublished, one-of-a-kind written materials that are deemed to have informational, cultural, historical, or artifactual value and are deliberately preserved for future generations. Archival materials of a personal nature such as letters, diaries, or wills are often called manuscripts or papers rather than archives since they do not document the official business of an organization, but that of an individual or family.

The Archives and Special Collections Department at Franklin and Marshall College serves three major functions. First, it is the repository for the official archives or institutional records of the College as well as a broad collection of other materials relating to the history of Franklin and Marshall. Secondly, the department preserves the personal manuscripts and official papers of prominent area individuals, families and local organizations. Lastly, as a unit of the library, the department maintains special collections of rare materials such as autographs, books, maps, posters, newspapers, prints and photographs.

Why are archives important?

Archives are a valuable tool in historical research as they represent a tangible link to the past. They chronicle, first-hand, what actually occurred during a particular event or time period. This proximity results in a unique "participant's perspective" that is invaluable to historians in understanding and interpreting the past.

Archives are held by a wide variety of institutions including religious organizations, corporations, government agencies, medical institutions, historical societies, and universities.

What are the differences between Libraries and Archives?

In order to use libraries and archives effectively, it is important to understand the major differences between the two:

  • Libraries contain published items available elsewhere. Archives generally contain unpublished items that are unique to the collection.
  • Library books are housed in open stacks and may be borrowed by researchers. Archives materials are housed in closed, secure stacks and may not be borrowed by researchers.
  • Library books are cataloged and described on an item level. Archival materials are often organized and described in groups or folders.

What records make it into the archives?

Archival records are selected through a process called appraisal and dispositon. Appraisal is defined as the process of determining the value (and thus the disposition) of records based upon their current administrative, legal, and fiscal use. In addition, records are evaluated to determine their possible evidential and informational value.

Evidential value is defined as the worth of documents for illuminating the nature and work of their creator by providing evidence of the creator's origins, functions, and activities.
Examples: President's Office Calendar, Williamson Medal Selection Committee minutes, Registrar's Office Transcription Sheets

Informational value is defined as the worth of documents for reference and research deriving from the information they contain on persons, places, subjects, etc.
Board of Trustees minutes, College Advancement annual reports, Oral history project transcripts

Other factors influencing the appraisal of records include:

  • their relationship to existing records
  • their condition and/or format
  • their intrinsic value - any significant worth based on age, creation, provenance, signature, or seal.

How are archives organized?

Unlike libraries, archives are organized by broad record groups, and not by general subject areas. Archival record groups are often defined by the office of origin, or creator of the records.

The college archives is organized into 15 broad record groups, and then broken down into smaller subgroups and record series. An outline of the records available in the College Archives is provided here. A more detailed, searchable database finding aid is available in the archives.

Books and other materials in the Franklin and Marshall College Library are organized by subject according to the Library of Congress Classification System.

Why are archival documents revisited?

Archival documents may be revisited by researchers when:
  • New information is discovered or released regarding a historic event or person.
    Examples: New private diaries are discovered concerning a 19th century naval expedition; Nixon tapes released
  • New cultural emphasis is placed on a historic event, region, time period, or group of people.
    Examples: Black women in American History; Chinese Americans in the Old West
  • Records are reformatted and made more widely available to the public.
    Examples: F&M Student Newspaper - Digital Collection; Reynolds Family Papers Digital Collection
  • The cyclical nature of history results in the repetitive need for previously gathered facts, data, research, or reports.
    Examples: Hershey's Non-Melting "Desert" Chocolate Bar (WWII's "Field Ration D" and Reissue During the Persian Gulf War)

What challenges do archivists face in preserving records?

In preserving records for the long term, archivists are concerned with the following two categories of threats:

Internal/Inherent Threats

  • Chemical/Physical make-up of the record
    Examples: Inks (acid/dyes), Paper (acid content/migration), Leather (protein breakdown), Film (cellulose nitrate breakdown), Photographs (gelatin binder breakdown), Adhesives (solvent breakdown), etc.
  • Original Format/Technology associated with the record
    Examples: Super 8mm film, 8-track tapes, 5 1/4 inch floppy disks, BetaMax, etc.

External Threats

  • Environmental Factors/Storage
    Examples: Temperature, Humidity, Light, Insects, Fire, Flooding, etc.
  • Handling/Use by researchers
    Examples: Pencils Only, Clean Hands, No Food or Drink, Gloves for Handling Photographs, etc.

Analyzing Primary Resources

Making Sense of Evidence - History Matters Website
"Making Sense of Documents" provide strategies for analyzing online primary materials, with interactive exercises and a guide to traditional and online sources. "Scholars in Action" segments show how scholars puzzle out the meaning of different kinds of primary sources, allowing you to try to make sense of a document yourself then providing audio clips in which leading scholars interpret the document and discuss strategies for overall analysis.

Document Analysis Worksheets
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) analysis worksheets are designed to spur critical and interpretive thinking about individual resources.

Locating Primary Resources

Lancaster Collections

Archives and Special Collections - Franklin & Marshall College
Organizes, promotes, and preserves the visual and written record of the college, and special collections of the library. Find college archives, manuscript collections, photographs, yearbooks, Lancaster maps and local newspapers.

Lancaster County Historical Society
Exhibitions on Lancaster history and research library. Find 19th and 20th century local newspapers, photographs, manuscripts and archival collections.

Duke Street Library - Library System of Lancaster County
Find 19th and 20th century local newspapers and Lancaster city records.

U.S. Collections

OAIster . . . find the pearls
OAIster is an online database of digital primary resources that uses the Open Archives Initiative to delve into web-based digital collections. Sponsored by the University of Michigan's Digital Library Production Service, OAIster's goal is to create a collection of freely available, previously difficult-to-access, academically-oriented digital resources.

Directories - U.S. Collections

NUCMC - National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections
A massive database containing records of manuscript collections from across the country. The "Eligibility Guidelines" clarify what kind of manuscripts are included in the database, while various tip sheets and a FAQ provide additional guidance. From the Library of Congress.

Archives Finder (4)
Locate primary resources held in over 118,000 archives and special collections with links for contact and access information.

Electronic Resources to Locate Secondary Sources

American History

America: History and Life
Comprehensive bibliography of articles on the history and culture of the United States and Canada, from prehistory to present. Covers abstracts 1964 to the present.

ANB Online
The American National Biography includes more than 17,400 men and women whose lives have shaped the nation. Updated quarterly.

Pennsylvania Newspapers (including Lancaster, PA)
Local Lancaster newspapers, provided by NewsBank. Covers 1995 to the present.

A more complete list of Lancaster PA historic newspapers (1796-present) can be found here.

New York Times - Full Image (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)
The New York Times (Sep 18, 1851 - Dec 31, 2001, full-text) offers full page and article images with searchable full text back to the first issue. The collection includes digital reproductions providing access to every page from every available issue.

Book Catalogs

F&M Catalog
The F&M catalog contains records for all of the books, journals, maps, and recordings held by the Shadek-Fackentahl Library, Martin Library of the Sciences, Academic Technology Services, and Whitely Psychology Library.

A catalog of library holdings worldwide. Now contains over 1 billion records! Search here if you are having difficulty locating books on your topic, and you have plenty of time before your work is due: obtaining books found in WorldCat requires the use of E-Z Borrow and/or Interlibrary Loan (ILL).

Additional Help

Contact Christopher Raab for further assistance or fill out a research appointment request form to meet with a librarian.

Last updated: 8/12/11 cmr


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