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Special Collections and Archives

Guide to Special Collections and Archives at UoB

Using Special Collections and Archives

When visiting any archive or special collection make sure you familiarise yourself with rules and regulations which may be different to what you may be used to. The rules are needed in order to protect the rare and often unique items. For example you may be required to store your bags in a locker, and only use pencils for making notes. 

For example, to access the Cadbury Research Library you must register for a reader's ticket  on your first visit. It is free to register but official identification showing your name, address and signature is needed. A valid University of Birmingham staff or student ID card can also be used as proof of identification.

University of Birmingham students may like to look at our self-enrol Using Archives and Special Collections  Canvas Course for more information. 


How Libraries differ from Archives

Libraries collect published material, referred to as secondary sources. Books etc., are usually arranged by subject. Books held in Special Collections tend to be rare, and often old or fragile so they will not be on open shelves. You will have to request for the books you need to be brought to the reading room.

Archives collect original unpublished material or primary sources. This material is unique and irreplaceable. The items are arranged according to provenance, i.e. material created and/or collected by an individual or organization are kept together. 

Primary Sources are first-hand accounts of a topic, from people who had a direct connection with it. They are snap shot and reflection of a moment in time. Primary Sources include business and personal correspondence, diaries, legal and financial documents, photographs, maps, illustrations, etc. 

For an overview on how to prepare to get the most out of your visit to an Archive see the National Archives Planning a Visit Blog


Citing Manuscripts

As a general rule of thumb, the first reference is to the individual item; the series, group and name or archives follow. As with all referencing, consistency of approach is essential.

You can find examples of how to cite manuscripts in CiteThemRightOnline   under Books> More books>  Manuscripts

It is essential therefore that you keep detailed notes of the items you use.Your working notes should include:

  • Name of archive institution
  • Record group or manuscript collection
  • Series or file title
  • Exact identity of the item consulted (include archival codes)
  • Date consulted
  • Your content note for the information that interests you
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