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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

History 200A: The Sexual Revolution in Global Perspective

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.

Major Digital Collections

Collections in Other Formats

Many of the collections in this section are archives (mostly organizational or personal archives) that have been microfilmed. For more on archives, see the section below on Special Collections.

Archives and 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Rare book libraries usually collect published sources, but may also collect manuscripts and other unpublished sources, especially literary manuscripts and manuscripts that relate to the library's rare book collections.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

Many archives have been digitized, and those are listed here. Many of these are the work of "community archives" or "counter-archives", which is to say archives begun and operated outside a traditional, institutional setting.

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:

Some examples of special collections at the University of Illinois Library (these are not digital collections, and you would have to consult them in the Archives):

Archives within traveling distance (obviously not an option for this semester, but historians usually want to know what's available at other repositories as well):


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.