Help Searching the Manuscripts, Archives & Special Collections Directory


Scope of the Directory

This directory displays information about Massachusetts repositories that responded to a 1997 survey about special collections holdings in their institutions as well as specific collection information as to the size of the holdings, the types of formats, and the names of the collections. This list has been expanded through the years as these institutions have updated their holdings information and other institutions have submitted information to be included.

What is a Special Collection

A Special Collection has been defined in numerous ways. In this instance, it is considered to be a collection of books, archives, manuscript materials, photographs and other similar items designated by the repository to have special significance and that document local history, celebrities, local government, industries or other organizations, or were gathered for some particular reason. These materials are usually separated from the general collection because they are of a certain form, on a certain subject, of a certain period or geographical area, rare, fragile, or valuable for research or monetary reasons.

Search Strategies

A number of possibilities have been provided to the researcher to search for informtion. These include searching by the name of the Institution, the Repository, the Special Collection Department, the Location (city or town), the Collection Description, the Name of a person or organization, and by Subject. Explanations of each of these categories are listed below. It should be noted that on occasion one search strategy may not produce results. Were this to occur, then it is advised that the researcher try another strategy, possibly on a broader scale. e.g. Were "Archives and Special Collections" not to produce a listing of institutions, it would be advisable to search under the Repository or the Institution.

Institution Search

The "institution" is considered to be the parent organization. This is particularly true when there are numerous departments within that institution. e.g. Amherst College would be the institution.

Repository Search

The "repository" is the department within a larger institution that houses the special collection. Usually the repository will be listed as a library or archives. e.g. The "Snell Library" at Northeastern University would be considered the repository.

Special Collections Department Search

The "special collections department" refers to the department within the repository where the materials are actually housed and whose staff has direct control over the collections. The "Archives and Special Collections" within the Sawyer Library at Williams College would be an example of the special collection department.

Location (city/town) Search

The "location" refers directly to the city or town in which the special collection resides. By entering the name of a city or town, the researcher will be presented with a list of the repostiories located within that town that submitted information from which to choose for further information. e.g. Entering the town of Concord produces the Concord Free Public Library, Special Collections/Town Archives; the Minute Man National Historical Park, Archives; and the Orchard House: Home of the Alcotts, Museum. The researcher then needs to check the appropriate box to view the information on the holdings of that institution.

Collection Description Search

Searching by Collection Description allows one to search directly by the name of the collection. This will bring up the name of the institution in which the collection is housed. e.g. The "Benjamin W. Crowningshield Papers" will result in the Peabody Essex Museum, Phillips Library, Salem being retrieved for further research.

Name Search

This category allows one to search for the specific name of the institutiion or person for whom one is searching. The results will bring up the name of the institution within which the collection by that name is housed. The researcher then needs to check the appropriate box to view the information on the holdings. e.g. Entering the name "Kittredge" brings up the Sturgis Library in Barnstable.

Subject Search

Library of Congress Subject Headings were used for this section. Familiarity with this convention will permit researchers to search the database using these terms. Single terms will also work. The results of the subject search will again produce a list of institutions holding materials on that subject. e.g. Using the term "whaling" produces a list including Edgartown Public Library; the MIT Museum, Cambridge; the Nantucket Historical Association, Edouard A. Stackpole Library and Research Center; New Bedford Free Public Library; the Old Dartmouth Historical Society/New Bedford Whaling Museum/Kendall Institute, New Bedford; and the Peabody Essex Museum, Phillips Library, Salem from which to choose.

Page last updated on 07/3/2015