FAQ for National History Day at SC/UA

Understanding our resources at SC/UA

Questions about particular kind of records and topics

General questions

Understanding our resources at SC/UA

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are original documents and objects that were created by people who were participating or witnessing a historical event. Primary sources are different from secondary sources, which are accounts or interpretations of events created by people without firsthand experience. Primary sources can be digital copies or published in books or online.

Examples of primary sources are letters, speeches, diaries, contemporary newspaper articles, oral history interviews, photographs, or anything else that provides firsthand accounts about a person or event.

Why don't you have any primary sources at SP/UA about the person I'm interested in? Can I find them anywhere else?

Although the same book can be found in many different libraries, archival materials are unique. Libraries collect materials about specific areas of research. (Rutgers SC/UA particularly focuses on materials relating to New Jersey history.) To find out which libraries hold particular collections about a certain individual, organization, or topic you can search Worldcat or Archive Grid.

What primary source materials from your collections do you have online?

We have a limited amount of materials that can be viewed online through our RUcore portal.

What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is a guide to a collection. It often contains information about the person or organization that created the collection, what is in it, and where to find specific items or types of materials.

Some finding aids are online. Others are paper copies available in a library or historical society. The finding aid gives you an idea of where to look, but you may still have to search through files and boxes.

What is a call slip? What are call numbers and sub-locations?

Call slips are forms that you fill in to order materials from SC/UA that are stored in our archival storage space on- or off-site. A call number is the number or code that identifies a certain book or collection. When it concerns a collection that is described in a finding aid it is the manuscript or accession number (usually starting with MC or Ac).

Questions about particular kind of records and topics at SC/UA

How do I find materials about my particular topic of interest?

To find what materials we have about specific people or subjects you can search in the Rutgers library catalog (QuickSearch). Do either a basic (keyword) or advanced search, then using the filters on the left-hand side of the page to limit by Library (Special Collections-University Archives) and by Resource Type (books, maps, "archival materials" etc).  Or check out our subject guides!

Do you have any old newspapers at SC/UA that I can read?

Newspapers can only be viewed on microfilm in the microform room in Alexander Library, which is on the same floor as where we are located. Minors need to be accompanied by an adult. Find out more about newspapers at SC/UA.

Do you have photographs or other visual materials that I can use?

With several exceptions, photographs and other visual materials are not stored separately, but are kept with the original collections. For photographs relating to Rutgers University view the Rutgers photo collection. For postcards of New Jersey (organized by county) consult the Sinclair New Jersey postcard collection. For our limited collection of New Jersey views contact our reference services. (View a list of all visual materials).

Do you have audiovisual materials that I can use for my documentary?

We do not have equipment to view audiovisual materials, but may be able to make arrangements when a service copy is available. Consult a staff member for more information.

What is the oldest or weirdest item you have?

Check out our blog post Ask An Archivist!


General questions

Can I come back to do more research by myself? When are you open?

You are welcome to visit our reading room at any time, when you bring an adult to accompany you (one adult can accompany up to six minors). We are open Mondays through Fridays from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM and Saturdays from 1:00-5:00 PM during the Rutgers academic year.

Can I make photocopies or photographs?

We recommend bringing a phone or camera to take pictures of the materials. You will have to fill in a form, in which you agree to use the photos for a personal research project only.

Make sure that you write down in which collection, box, and folder you found the document, so that you can list it as a resource. If you make photo from inside a book make sure you also photograph the title page for your bibliography.

Can I borrow your books through interlibrary loan?

Books at Special Collections and University Archives can not be borrowed through interlibrary loan. If you find other books in the Rutgers library catalog that you would like to borrow for your research, you should be able to borrow them through an interlibrary loan at your local public library.

I can't read the handwriting of the old letters or diaries that I want to use. Can you help me read them?

If you want to use older materials in our collections, you should be prepared that many of these may be handwritten, which makes it difficult and time consuming to read. Although we are always happy to help you understand a few words or lines, we cannot help you transcribe a whole document. Be prepared to make photographs of the document, so that you can try to understand it better at home, because the more familiar you get with somebody's handwriting, the easier it gets to read it.

Can I interview you about my topic for my documentary?

We only have expertise about the resources in our collections, not about their subject matter, so except in a few cases we will not be able to be interviewed ourselves. We recommend finding a subject specialist who is able to answer your questions.