How to use archives:
One thing that students need to be aware of is that not everything is online. It is easy to assume that everything that people need is available on some website. While there is a lot of information out there, there is still a lot that is not online.
If you would like to find information that is not online, a good place to look is an archive. Many archives store materials that cannot be found anywhere else. The Society for American Archivists have an excellent guide to finding archives here.
An excellent example of an archive is the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. The Wade Center states that they “emphasize the ongoing relevance of seven British Christian authors who provide a distinctive blend of intellect, imagination, and faith: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams.” If a researcher were to look at the Wade Center collection listing, he/she/they would find that the center has some of the books that the seven authors had in their personal libraries. These books have annotations that the authors wrote in the books. If a researcher was interested in what C.S. Lewis thought about a certain book in the collection beyond what he had formally written for a paper, he/she/they could ask an archivist to pull the book. The researcher could then ask the librarian for a transcription of a note on a page, or even a photocopy of a page. If a researcher is near Wheaton, Illinois, he/she/they may be able to go to the center to see the book in person. Given the fact that there may not be other copies of that specific notation in a book, the Wade Center would be the only place in the world that could give you that information.
The above example is one of many archives that a student may want to research. There are archives for just about everything. Using archival information is an excellent way to make your essay or research stand out.
After finding the archive you are looking for, you should look at a finding aid to look for the information you need. You can find an excellent guide to finding aids from San Diego State University here, and a sample finding aid from the Society of American Archivists here.
While you are looking at the archive of your choice, make sure to speak with an archivist at the institution! Archivists are in charge of the archives, and they can help you find information that you need. Most archivists will be excited to help a researcher find what he/she/they need to know.
These sources are in MLA Format.
San Diego Statue University. “Using Finding Aids Tutorial.” SDSU Library, https://library.sdsu.edu/guides/tutorial.php?id=8&pid=30. Accessed 22 July 2019.
Schmidt, Laura. “Appendix: Sample Annotated Finding Aid.” Society of American Archivists, https://www2.archivists.org/usingarchives/appendix. Accessed 22 July 2019.
---. “Finding and Evaluating Archives | Society of American Archivists.” Society of American Archivists, https://www2.archivists.org/usingarchives/findingandevaluating. Accessed 22 July 2019.
Wheaton College. “About.” Wheaton College, https://www.wheaton.edu/academics/academic-centers/wadecenter/about/. Accessed 22 July 2019.
Wheaton College, Wheaton. “Collection Listings.” Wheaton College, https://www.wheaton.edu/academics/academic-centers/wadecenter/collections/collection-listings/. Accessed 22 July 2019.