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Special Collections and Archives

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

Special Collections and Archives Updates during COVID-19

While the Special Collections and Archives reading room is currently closed to the public, Special Collections and Archives staff continue to offer remote reference support and you can access our digitized archives online. If you have questions, please contact us via email: 

You can reach us via email ( and you can schedule an online appointment to meet with staff on Zoom to get help with your research.

Summer and Fall Quarter Archives Instruction Sessions: Special Collections and Archives offers remote synchronous and asynchronous instruction for Summer and Fall Quarter 2020. Contact Laura Sorvetti at

Campus and Library updates: The library has put together an informational page on accessing library resources and services from remote locations. For more university-wide information, check out Cal Poly's COVID-19 webpage.

Special Collections and Archives Online Resources

The Special Collections and Archives Reading Room is closed. However, many digitized primary sources and collections are available through our online collections.

Online collections: An archive of over 20,000 items, ranging from 1870 – 2018, including historic photographs, documents, sound recordings, architectural plans and videos.

Online Collections

Student newspapers and campus documents online:

The student newspaper is available from 1916-2011 on Digital Commons:

Student Newspaper

This repository also provides access to a selection of campus documents and publications, including Academic Senate.

Campus Documents

Web archives: Since 2015, Special Collections and Archives has been archiving the websites of the University, Mustang News, KCPR, and organizations that have donated their paper-based collections to the archives. The content of the web archives is searchable, and includes Youtube channels, select official social media accounts, and documents hosted online by the University.

Web Archives

Online Archive of California: Detailed descriptions of primary source collections available through Cal Poly Special Collections and Archives (and other California cultural heritage organizations). The collections described here are not currently accessible onsite, but some of the descriptions include links to digital copies from the collections.


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