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Special Collections and Archives

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

What does the archives have?

Special Collections and Archives has over 200 archives collections with millions of unique and rare primary sources. Only a selection of items are digitized and online, so you may want to set an appointment to come to the archives or request copies of materials that are only available in the archives.

There are two places to search Special Collections and Archives materials:

  • Online Archive of California: You can search through many of our archives collections at the Online Archive of California.
  • OneSearch Library Catalog: You can search our books, journals, artists books, broadsides through the library's catalog OneSearch.
  • We recommend searching both OAC and OneSearch.

If you find materials you want to see, you can set up a time to visit the archives, request photos of the items, or meet on zoom to look through the folders.

Searching the Online Archive of California

The Online Archive of California (OAC) is your portal to discovering archives at cultural repositories across the state. Special Collections and Archives has finding aids, or collection inventories, available to search on OAC to find out more about our collections.

Search Special Collections and Archives on OAC

In archives like here at Cal Poly, our holdings are organized as collections of materials. Each donation or transfer to the archives becomes a collection. Archives staff describe each collection, including information about the scope of the collection, the date span of materials, the creators of the records, and how many boxes of materials are in the collection. 

Some collections are briefly described, while others have a finding aid, which includes an inventory to the collection, describing what is in each box and folder. You can use the finding aid to determine which boxes of materials you want to look at.

Finding Aids uploaded to the OAC by Special Collections staff are formatted in two ways. 

Search Special Collections in OneSearch

What is OneSearch? 

OneSearch is the library catalog for the entire California State University system. With OneSearch, you can use a single search box to look for materials in all 23 CSU campus libraries. These items include articles, e-journals, and e-books, creating a large pool of resources in a single location to simplify the research process.

What Special Collections and Archives materials are in OneSearch?

Many items in Cal Poly's Special Collections and Archives are searchable in OneSearch. This includes books, journals, artists' books, senior projects and master's theses, and some archives collections. Special Collections has approximately 10,000 cataloged materials in our collections!

How do I find OneSearch?

You can search OneSearch from the library homepage, or go directly to OneSearch at

How do I perform a basic search?

If you start typing in the OneSearch search box on the library webpage, you will be performing a basic keyword search. Your keywords will be compared against every record in the catalog so you may get a lot of results! 

Learn more about searching the library catalog at the OneSearch FAQ Guide.

OneSearch has a selection of limiters or filters which you can use to narrow down your search results. 

This is a great way to begin your search if you're not completely sure what you are looking for! You can start with a basic keyword search and slowly weed out materials that you are not interested in. 

Search and filter: the simplest strategy for OneSearch

The most direct way to find materials is to search with keywords and use the many filters to narrow your results. 

Limiting your search to Special Collections

To limit your search to ONLY materials housed in Special Collections, using the left-hand filters, scroll down to "Library" and select "Kennedy Library Special Collections & Archives."


Refining by date - sorting by oldest and newest published

Sometimes you will need to limit your results based on date of publication. There are two useful search tips for searching by date:

If you would like to see items sorted by date created (for example, if you wanted to see the earliest publications about California), you can use the "Sort by" function. Click on the drop-down and select "Date-oldest"

Refining by date - limiting to a span of years

If you want items that were created within a specific span of time, you can use the filter "Creation Date" and enter in the earliest and latest years you want to search. Then click "Refine" to to apply the filter.