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Five College Archives and Manuscript Collections
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Primary Source Research Guide
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> About Archives
- Finding Aids
- Anatomy of a Finding Aid
Finding Primary Sources
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Use and Reproduction
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About Archives

Types of repositories

Primary sources can be found in different types of repositories:
Archives traditionally accumulate records from the offices and departments of their own institution. Each of the Five Colleges has its own archives that documents the history of that institution. Some college and university archives also acquire the personal papers of faculty and students.

Manuscript collections acquire personal papers and organizational records, often in a particular subject area or discipline (such as the Sophia Smith Collection on women's history). The term "archives" is often used in a more general way to refer to both institutional archives as well as manuscript collections.

Rare Book Collections may also include manuscripts of books and personal papers that complement the collection, such as the Sylvia Plath Papers in the Mortimer Rare Book Room.

In colleges and universities there is often a single "Archives and Special Collections" department that will include the institutional archives, as well as a manuscript collections and rare books. At some institutions, the repositories may be in separate departments, as they are at Smith College.

Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College
Curator Karen Kukil shows Sylvia Plath manuscripts to students in the Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College.

Processing collections

After materials are acquired they are processed by an archivist, curator, or manuscripts processor. Processing involves sorting and arranging the materials in a collection with a conscious effort to retain the order in which they are received, should any order exist. Preservation measures are applied to materials that are fragile or deteriorated. A finding aid is then created, which serves as a guide to the collection for researchers.

For Five College archives and manuscript collections, once processed the collection is cataloged and entered in the Five College Libraries online catalog and the finding aid is encoded and published on this site (Home page).

For more definitions of common archival terms, see Definitions of Archival Terms on the Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections Web site.

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Project funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Last update: May 24, 2004