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Getting Started with Archives: Using the Archives Portal

This guide serves as an introduction to locating and evaluating collection description, and beginning archival research at NYPL

The Archives Portal --

Keyword-searchable collection description for materials held throughout NYPL is found on the Archives Portal. Finding aids are more detailed than the collection-level catalog records, organized in predictable sections which have been standardized across institutions. Typical description contains a narrative summary of the collection contents, as well as a container list locating material within an archives for larger collections. The information presented in the finding aid is designed to allow a researcher to make an educated guess as to whether the collection can be expected to be useful to research. Fully exploring an archival collection requires a research trip to the repository, however librarians and archivists can often provide some information during the planning stages. Researchers are encouraged to reach out at any point. search bar

For a list of all collections found on the portal, click on the "About" link at top right, and then select a repository.


Narrowing search results

Boolean operators (AND, NOT, OR) placed between terms create complex searches. Quotation marks can be used to set off exact phrases. Search results can be filtered by repository at left, and also by 50-year date span. 

Page capture with a "New York" AND prohibition search


Interpreting search results

Scanning the results page will sometimes indicate where a word or phrase is located in the finding aid. Other times, the full description will need to be reviewed to locate a term. Clicking through on a promising collection title will take you to the Overview page. Directly beneath the title and date is an abstract of the collection.

Sample collection abstract (New York Times Company records, Arthur Hays Sulzberger papers)

The abstract provides key pieces of information in the summary. The "Creator" is the person, family, or organization responsible for the collection's contents. The "Call number" links back to the research catalog, which should be checked in case a collection is held off-site. The "Physical description" provides the size of the collection, and the "Repository" is location where the material can be consulted. This information is helpful in figuring out how much time might be needed to conduct research of the whole collection.


The navigation at left of the abstract connects to further narrative sections describing the entire collection.

Biographical/historical information contains short biographical or historical sketches about the creator. Understanding the creator's circumstances - roles, relationships, activities - will help estimate what is present in the collection. 

Scope and arrangement is a summary of the intellectual content of the collection as it is organized in the collection. This section often enumerates the types of materials and dates are. Series details are not found in the catalog record.

Administrative information is a description of the events in a collection's life before and after coming to the Library. Any steps interventions made in the collection by archivists or library staff will be described here. If the contents and arrangement are the same as when the creator collected materials, a researcher can make inferences about the creator's value system by the labeling, amount, and organization of the archives.

Key terms are names, places, subjects, and material types present in the collection. These are hyperlinked to other records found in the Archives Portal. These are not an exhaustive list.

Using the collection provides contact information for the repository, and relates any restrictions or conditions governing the collection's use.

The Detailed description tab links to the container list. The Printable version presents the narrative summary and the container list in a single document.


On the Detailed Description page, the contents are divided into navigable series at left of the container list.


A keyword filter allows a researcher to search for specific words in descriptions or titles. A filtered result will display the keyword in its hierarchical context.

Series navigation


If the creator history, dates, and context sync up with a project - or if more information is needed to make the assessment - it is time to contact the division. An archivist can provide more details or further resources about a collection. It is helpful if a researcher provides some background of the project for a more complete response.