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Special Collections and Archives

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

What architectural archives does Special Collections and Archives have?

Staff person is opening a large folder that holds architectural drawings on tissue.

Special Collections and Archives houses the personal and professional papers of architects, landscape architects, architectural photographers, and other collections related to the built environment of California.

Types of materials include:

  • architectural drawings of built and unrealized projects
  • correspondence with clients and colleagues
  • publicity files
  • photographs
  • examples of student work of architects
  • architects personal and family papers
  • Artists' Books
  • Rare book collection, including architecture books

Areas of emphasis:

Julia Morgan Collections at Cal Poly

To learn more about the Julia Morgan collections at Cal Poly, go to our library guide here

William F. Cody Collections at Cal Poly

To learn more about the William F. Cody collections at Cal Poly, check out this guide:

Our Collections

The Online Archive of California

You can browse and search the collections we have at our online collections portal on the Online Archive of California

To see most of our architecture-related archives, search the keyword "architecture" or go here.

Searching the collections

The collections are organized by archivists. Records related to projects are divided by type of record and format: publicity and public relations, presentation drawings, architectural drawings, project records (correspondence, project specifications, etc.), and photographs. Not all projects have all types of records.

Projects are identified with the following information, when known:

  • Client Name
  • project type
  • job #
  • Country Club (if applicable)
  • city, state
  • year of project (approximate)

FF stands for flat file, which indicates oversized drawings stored in folders. TUBE indicates oversized drawings (5 ft. or longer) rolled on tubes.

A flat file folder may contain between 1 to 15 items. A box folder may contain between 1 to 30 items. A tube can contain 1 to 2 items.

Setting up an appointment

Set up an appointment to research the collections. 

  • Look at the finding aids and identify Boxes or Flat File Folders you would like to look at. You will submit this list of materials to the archives and they will pull the material before your visit. 
  • When requesting materials, it is important to track the collection title or manuscript number (e.g. Cody Papers or MS 007) so archives staff know which collection to pull from.
  • Email or call Special Collections to set up an appointment and request these materials. We are open M-F, 9am-4pm.
    • 805-756-2305

During your research appointment you will:

  • Complete a researcher registration form (first visit only)
  • Leave all your belongings in the cubbies. You may have in the reading room pencils, cameras, laptops, phones, or ipads. Staff will provide you with paper.
  • Look at one folder at a time. Keep materials in folder in order. 
  • Use care when handling materials. Ask staff for help with fragile or folded materials.
  • Oversized drawings will require assistance from staff
  • If you take photos, make sure to record the location of the item

Searching the digital collections

We are digitizing materials from the collection on a regular basis. 

You can search our collections at our digital collections page:

The easiest way to find materials is to search the last name of the architect and the client name/project name.

You can search a specific client or project name, location, or keyword.

Secondary sources and scholarly research on architects

The library has books that include research on the archives we hold. Some of these books are located in Special Collections and can be requested to the reading room if you ask the archives staff.

You can search the library catalog and also search for articles in library databases. Check out CAED Librarian Jesse Vestermark's pages on finding secondary sources:

Finding architectural archives beyond Cal Poly's Special Collections and Archives

If you are researching an architect who is not at Cal Poly, you will want to determine where that architect's papers are located. 

  • Try searching the Architect's name + "archives"
  • Look on the wikipedia page for the architect and see if the archives is listed at the bottom of the page
  • If using secondary sources, look at the footnotes or citations area to see which archives the author cites.

If you find the architect's records, check to see if that archives has digital collections. 

  • you can also try searching the architect's name + "digital collections"
  • see where images and drawings are credited to
  • If the items you are looking for are not digitized, you can reach out to the archives to determine their policies for providing digital copies of materials. 

Some architectural records may be found in other collections than the architect, such as:

  • The client's archives (including institutions such as Cal Poly)
  • Photographer's archives
  • Authors' archives
  • Regional archives
  • Permitting agencies

Use a Google Advanced Search

Using Google Advanced Search with specific search terms can help yield more focused results. Within Advanced Search, use the "all of these worlds" and the "This exact word or phrase" to enter keywords for your subject, for example:

  • all these words: Kauffman House
  • any of these words: archives manuscripts collection correspondence scrapbooks sources letters

Also try:

  • all of these words: Kauffman House
  • this exact word or phrase: "Archival collections" "manuscript collections"

Also try (separately):

  • all these words: Kauffman house WITH this exact word or phrase: finding aid
  • all these words: Kauffman house EAD