Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Getting Started with Archives: Mining References in Other Sources

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

Further methods of locating archives at NYPL

There are plenty of ways to find archival collections beyond Library catalogs and finding aids. Published secondary sources provide references to archives in citations and footnotes, and can provide valuable pointers to collections which might not have much published description. Earlier catalogs and print guides to archival collections also remain useful. The Library's Digital Collections platform hosts images of items from across collections.

The New York Public Library's archival collections have been available for research for over 100 years. The footnotes and citations in existing scholarship can be mined to point to specific collections, or a favorite source can be used as a starting point for catalog searches.

The below notes and bibliography are from Jennifer Fronc's New York Undercover.

Clipping from New York Undercover with footnotes (page 198, notes 40-46)

These endnotes reference a specific document, and provides collection information in abbreviation.
New York Undercover bibliography clipping (page 221)

The abbreviation is defined on the bibliography page. This example is from the Committee of Fifteen records (and the sources can now be read online through the container list).

The bibliography connects the records cited with other NYPL archival collections which were useful to Fronc's project. If a researcher's project is topically similar, then these collections' descriptions are likely worth reviewing.


If a secondary source is core to a researcher's study, a good method of finding other pertinent sources is to look at the catalog record. The catalog record provides Subject links to connect to additional material. Once a Subject is selected, the search can be limited specifically to "Archives and Manuscripts" to find only archival collections, or further modified as described in the Using the Catalog tab of this guide.

Print guides

In some cases, older printed guides can be useful in locating collection information, especially information found in older secondary sources. These guides help a researcher understand the collecting strengths of an institution.

Fifty years ago, NYPL divisions produced print versions of department card catalogs, including the Dictionary Catalog to the Manuscript Division, the Oriental collection (later known as the Asian and Middle Eastern Division), the Slavonic collection (later the Slavic and Baltic Division), the Spencer collection of illustrated books and bindings, Berg collection of English and American literatureArents tobacco collection, and the Theatre and Drama collections and Music collection (both at the Library for the Performing Arts). These are held in many academic library collections and can be browsed by name, title, and subject.

Prior to this effort, in 1961 Philip M. Hamer produced the Guide to Archives and Manuscripts in the United States for the National Historical Publications Commission. This text provides descriptions of repositories nationwide, including many local historical sites.

In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration's Historical Records Survey created guides to repositories. This effort includes a New York City volume (also available on HathiTrust), and a 1942 manuscripts calendar to the Schomburg Center.

Other online databases

Two databases contain archival collection information on a national scale. ArchiveGrid consolidates finding aids from OCLC participant institutions, and can be filtered by authority heading or archives location. Archive Finder converts the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections project into a searchable database.

Digital collections landing page search Digital Collections contains images sourced from across all of the Library's research divisions and encompassing a wide range of formats. Search by word or phrase, or browse a particular division or collection. Results can be narrowed by date, document type, division, and copyright status, among other criteria. 
Selecting a result will display information about the original item's details and location. For archival collections, a link is provided to the Archives Portal. The collection description can then be evaluated - there may be more material of interest not digitized. Image of link to Archives Portal from Digital Collections item record


For more on searching Digital Collections, click here for an instructive blog post highlighting many features. Many digitized images have further details available through NYPL's online exhibitions.