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LALS/HIST 290: A Guide to Special Collections Research: Access Sources

This guide will suggest collections and research strategies for students conducting primary source research and document analysis on the topic of Mexican American History in Chicago.

How to use a finding aid video tutorial from San Diego State University Library

Special Collections and Archives Research: How to Read a Finding Aid

Finding aids are tools that facilitate the discovery of information within a collection of records. This page breaks down the essential parts of a finding aid. This will help you interpret the information presented in a finding aid. The sections of a finding aid explained here are broken down into six parts: Summary Information; History; Scope and Content Notes; Restrictions; Subject Terms; Citation; and Collection Inventory.

Summary Information

This part of finding aid states the collection title, collection number, and dates of the material. The publisher tells you the name of the library or archive in which the collection can be found. The physical description will tell you the size or extent of the collection. The Abstract gives a brief description of what you can expect to find in the collection. 


Biography or Organizational History

The biography or organizational history section of the finding aid will have a biography on either the person or family (if it a collection of personal papers) or history of the organization. This section will help you to understand the context in which these records were created and provide important background information. (Chicago Urban League records finding aid).


Scope and Content Notes

The scope and content notes in a finding aid will describe what will be found in the collection. It will tell you the type of material (example- annual reports, correspondence, blueprints, etc.). It may also tell you what not to expect to find in a collection. (Chicago Urban League records finding aid).


About Special Collections

The Richard J. Daley Special Collections Department houses collections of rare books, manuscripts, university archives, and photographs. The rare book collection includes books of permanent, historic, and research interest focusing primarily on the history of Chicago. The manuscript holdings consist of records of individuals and organizations important to the history of Chicago. Images of these individuals, organizations, and Chicago form the core of the photographs and digital images collection.

Special Collections is open to the public during the following hours:

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 10 am-4:30 pm

Wednesday: 10 am-7 pm

Saturdays during fall and spring school sessions (call for details): 12:30-4:30 pm

Closed on holiday weekends and for occasional special events.

Contact us: 312.996.2742 or Ask A Librarian