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History 200B: Race and the City

Introduces history majors to basic research library concepts (you should master before History 498). Provides both a broad overview of the source types collected by research libraries, and also lists specific sources relevant to research for this course.

On This Page

On this page are digital collections of documents that do not fit into any of the traditional categories of library resources. In some cases these collections are mixtures of document types (some books, some periodical issues, some newspaper clippings); in other cases they are digital collections of unpublished sources, typically found in archives, and in fact many of these collections are simply digitized archival collections, and are organized like archival collections. Some knowledge of archival organization will therefore be helpful to you in using these collections.

You can find more digital collections by using our Digital Collections Guide:

Digital Collections

Microfilm Collections

Special Collections

Special collections bring together documents that share some common characteristic, such as rarity, format, subject, or provenance. Rare book libraries and archives are two common types of special collections.

Rare book libraries usually collect published sources, but may also collect manuscripts and other unpublished sources, especially literary manuscripts and manuscripts that relate to the library's rare book collections. Rare book libraries are usually organized like other libraries described in this guide, and are often attached to a research or academic library.

Archives, on the other hand, are organized quite differently than libraries. This difference is due to several factors, including the following:

  • The massive quantity of documents acquired by archives (an archive will usually measure the size of its collection by linear feet rather than by number of volumes)
  • The special nature of archival collections (which sometimes include access restrictions due to privacy rights of people who are the subjects of the documents)
  • The evidentiary value of the collection's arrangement as that arrangement was developed by the collection's original creators and users. 

Unlike library collections, which are organized by subject, archival collections are organized by provenance, and to whatever extent possible the archive will attempt "to maintain the integrity of records in relation to their documentary, provenancial, functional, and jurisdictional contexts",1 by ensuring that the documents remain organized the way they were organized at the time of their creation, or the time of their accession into the archive.

Other types of documents found in special collections include "maps, games, original works of art, realia (nonbook objects, such as furniture, weaponry, or locks of hair), textiles, audiovisual materials, and digital materials".2

While you will generally use catalogs to discover sources in library collections, you will use finding aids. Finding aids can describe archival collections at different levels of granularity (which depends largely on the ability of archives personnel to process these large collections). A blunt finding aid might simply describe the major record series that compose a collection. A detailed finding aid can describe an archival collection down to the box, folder, or even item level.

The finding aids for archival collections held by the University of Illinois Library are searchable:

A directory of finding aids for archival collections on Black history in Chicago is the Black Metropolis Research Consortium:


1. Joanne Evans, Sue McKemmish, and Barbara Reed, "Archival Arrangement and Description," in Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, 4th ed., ed.  John D. McDonald and Michael Levine-Clark (Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2017), 118.

2. Lynne M. Thomas, "Special Collections," in Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, 4th ed., ed.  John D. McDonald and Michael Levine-Clark (Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2017), 4335.