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Special Collections Research & Access

Quick guide for WashU students, faculty and staff, as well as community researchers

Welcome to Washington University Libraries ArchivesSpace

Washington University Libraries’ Julian Edison Department of Special Collections invites researchers to explore our extensive collections, including the Dowd Illustration Research Archive (formerly Dowd Modern Graphic History Library), Film and Media Archive, Local History, Manuscripts, Rare Books, and University Archives.

Special Collections aims to collect, preserve, promote, and make accessible rare, archival, and primary source materials that enrich teaching, learning, and research for the Washington University community and beyond. Researchers can search the manuscript and archival collections with ArchivesSpace.

What is ArchivesSpace?

ArchivesSpace is a web application designed to help our users search for and access items in the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections. Our librarians and archivists produce finding aids that describe the items in our collections so you will have plenty of information about our collections' materials to help you search for what you need.

ArchivesSpace is an open-source information management application for archival and manuscript materials. Researchers can access ArchivesSpace to browse and search a repository’s collections and view finding aids for processed collections. 



How do I get to ArchivesSpace?

From the Washington University Libraries home page click on the down arrow to the left of the search bar:

Then click on the “ArchivesSpace” link:


In the search bar, type in your search term and ENTER on your keyboard (or click on the magnifying glass icon to the right.)


Results will be displayed in a new tab in ArchivesSpace.

You can also go directly to ArchivesSpace via this link:

How do I Use ArchivesSpace to Search?

From the main ArchivesSpace ( landing page you may do a keyword search related to your research topic. There are a lot of options for searching including limiting the term by record type, fields within in ArchivesSpace, and date.

In the example below, the keyword is the author “May Swenson,” in “Collections” where she is a “Creator” of the material within a date range.

  1. Type “May Swenson” in the ENTER YOUR SEARCH TERMS text box
  2. Click on the down arrow on the right side of the LIMIT TO ALL RECORD TYPES field
  3. Select “Limit to Collections” from the drop-down list
  4. Click on the down arrow to the right of KEYWORD and select “Creator” from the drop-down list
  5. Click on SEARCH:



You will see a results page appear that looks similar to the following. Click on the link for “May Swenson Papers”:


The May Swenson Papers record will appear:


ArchivesSpace gives you the option to add another keyword to further focus your search.

Do a search similar to the previous search example:

(1) Type a search term

(2) Click on the down arrow and choose Limit to Collections

(3) Click on the down arrow and choose “Creator”(4) Click on SEARCH:



From your results, you can continue to focus your search by clicking on “Refine Search”  and adding another search term:


Click on the “+” :


Another line will pop up, allowing you to add additional search criteria:



Alternatively, you can do a keyword search from the main page and focus your search using additional filters that will appear on the right-hand side of the screen. Using the keyword, “May Swenson” will bring up a large number of records.


In the following example, you can further limit your search by selecting authority fields or categories that are linked in the additional filters. For example, clicking on the linked name, “Swenson, May” will take you to records where May Swenson is a creator of the manuscript material.



You can further refine these results by using the additional filters at the left of the screen. You can search within these results and limit the results to a specific area of Special Collections (e.g., Manuscripts, etc.); by subject terms (i.e, terms that describe what the collection is about); or by specific names of persons and organizations associated with the collection.

How do I Browse the collections in ArchivesSpace?

From the main ArchivesSpace landing page you can browse the collections in Special Collections in five different ways: by Collections, Collection Areas, Subjects, Creators, and Digital Materials. You can also return to the home screen, which includes the search interface, at any time by clicking on HOME:



The COLLECTIONS link will display a list of all the collections in Special Collections. You can browse the alphabetical list or refine your search via the “ADDITIONAL FILTERS” links on the left by COLLECTING AREA, SUBJECT, OR NAME. You can also do a keyword search within these results and limit by date to further focus your search:






The COLLECTING AREAS link will display a list of Special Collections’ collecting areas: The Dowd Illustration Research Archive, the Film & Media Archive, Local History, Manuscripts, Rare Books, University Archives, and WU Distributed Libraries:





The SUBJECTS link will display a list of subject headings for collections in the repository. You can browse the list or refine your search by adding a keyword search within these results. You can also sort the results alphabetically by title.





The CREATORS link will display a list of authority records of people or organizations who created material in the Special Collections. You can browse the alphabetical list or refine your search via the “Additional Filters” links on the left by TYPE or SUBJECT. You can also do a keyword search within these results and limit by date to continue to focus your search:





Digital thumbnails are available for a select number of collections:






How do I Explore Collections in ArchivesSpace?

ArchivesSpace allows researchers to view finding aids for processed collections. A finding aid is a document containing detailed, indexed information about a collection that allows researchers to locate specific information or records within a collection.

In our finding aids, researchers will be able to read a description of the collection (Scope and Contents), the extent and date range for the collection, historical or biographical information about the creator of the collection, and other information about the conditions governing access and use of the collections, including any restrictions on the collection in addition to other administrative data.

To find out more about a specific collection, click on the title to open up the finding aid.

In this example, under the COLLECTIONS tab, click in the SEARCH WITHIN RESULTS field, and type “Walt Reed” then click on the SEARCH button:


Click on the record “Walt Reed Illustration Archives”:

ArchivesSpace screenshot

The following page will appear.

On the right-hand side of the screen, you will see the Collection Organization with an expandable listing for each archival series. You can browse the collection by opening up the listings by clicking on the arrows, or you can search within the collection by keyword using the search box. 

From this page, researchers can view what is in each series, subseries, box, and folder.  You will also find important information about how a collection has been arranged. This information can be seen in the Collection Organization section, and also in a breadcrumb menu at the top of the page.


From the main "About" page you will find the following info about the collection if applicable:

  • Scope and Contents
  • Dates
  • Creator
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Biographical Information
  • Extent
  • Language of Materials
  • Additional Description
  • Collection Subgroups
  • Related Names
  • Finding Aid & Administrative Informaiton
  • Collection Area Details



As you open up each series, there may be subseries, as is the case for Series 6 Tear Sheets:

ArchivesSpace screenshot


Click on SERIES 6, SUB-SERIES 1. 

Click on the DIGITAL MATERIAL link.


Click on EXPAND ALL to see more details about the collection. 











Researchers can view what is in each series, subseries, box, and folder.  You will also find important information about how a collection has been arranged. This information can be seen in the Collection Organization section, and also in a breadcrumb menu at the top of the page.





At the folder or item level, there will be detailed information about the material, including Scope and Contents (how many items are in this folder), Dates (dates of the items), Physical Storage Information (folder information), and Collecting Area Details (Collecting Area, link to the Special Collections website, and contact info for that collection). To view more information, you can click on the link in that section to view more detail.





Note: Each finding aid has its own level of detail and organization, but at the item or box level there will a note about Physical Storage Information and a Request button that researcher can use to request to view the material:






How do I Request to View a Collection?

Please contact us to arrange your visit to view materials or with reference questions by email ( or via telephone at (314) 935-5495; you may also reach us by text message at (314) 309-3411. Research is by appointment only.