Skip to Main Content

Library update: Recent database changes

Learn more

Introduction to Archival Research at MSU Libraries

This guide has been designed to help researchers locate and access Archives & Special Collections materials at Mississippi State University Libraries.

Archival Terminology

Like many professional and academic disciplines, the archives field uses specialized terminology commonly recognized throughout the field. The Society of American Archivists maintains an extensive glossary, the Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology, of these terms. However, the terms defined below are those you will most commonly hear around our reading rooms.

Archives: organized noncurrent, repetitive records of an institution or organization.

Archivist: professionals trained in the preservation of original materials and in making them available for public consumption.

Finding Aid: a descriptive tool used to navigate a collection.

Manuscripts: materials that have been collected or created by a private entity then donated to a repository for retention, preservation, and public use.

Primary Source: materials that give immediate, first-hand accounts of a particular historical event. These types of sources have been created by entities (e.g., individuals, families, and organizations) with a direct connection to the event and were created contemporaneous (i.e., created at the same time) to those events. For more information on primary sources, check out the Primary Sources section of our History Research Guide.

Rare Books: books that are antiquarian (i.e., old or rare), fragile, or limited print.

Reading Room: a secure space designed for researchers conducting archival research. Usually has special rules and procedures for use.

Special Collections: most often, collections within libraries that contain rare, unique, or fragile materials. This may include primary or secondary sources.

Vertical File: a collection of ephemeral items (e.g., newspaper clippings, pamphlets, flyers, etc.) used for ready reference.