Skip to main content

Special Collections and Archives

Tips and tools for students researching primary sources in Special Collections and Archives and online

Where are Primary Sources at Cal Poly?

Primary sources are physically located in Special Collections and Archives and may be available online.

Special Collections and Archives houses archival collections, which are collections of original unpublished, historical and contemporary material – in other words, primary sources. Before you visit the archives, you can save time and effort if you first:

  • Note the hours of Special Collections and Archives. Explore Special Collections' website and any special use that may apply (registration, storage, appointments, requesting materials, etc.)
  • BEFORE YOU ARRIVE: Search the library catalog to find the titles and call numbers of specific books.
  • If you need to use primary sources, look to see if the collection has a finding aid. Some finding aids list the contents of collections, box by box, folder by folder; others are less detailed. Some finding aids are available online via the Online Archive of California (the primary source itself may or may not be online).


What Is an Archival Collection?

  • Archival collections consist of the records and personal papers of individuals or organizations 
  • Collections include records that document the activities of creator
  • Unpublished correspondence, subject files, photographs, broadsides/posters, reports, manuscripts, and records 
  • Archivists use finding aids to describe archival collections
  • Finding aids consist of three primary parts: biographical history, scope and content, and inventory
  • Archival collections do not circulate