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Archival Research Introduction

Introduction to Archival Research

So you need to conduct some archival research, but you don't know where or how to start?

Welcome to the Loyola University New Orleans Introduction to Archival Research, a libguide created by the teaching team in the Special Collections and Archives unit.

Key Terms

While the term "archives" has garnered a number of definitions and applications, this libguide focuses on the practical and precise meaning of the term rather than metaphorical or ambiguous application of the term. As a growing field, the use of the terms below lean heavily on how the scholarly and practical apply these key concepts in our work, literature, and day to day realities. For a more comprehensive look at archival key terms, refer to the Society of American Archivist Dictionary Online.

What is an archive?

For practical purposes, the term archives here does not refer to an idea or non tangible things. Rather it describe a physical object, place, or area of work. For example, archives can mean:

plural. noun.

  1. records created or received by a person, family, or organization and preserved because of their continuing value(View Citations)
  2. inactive records of continuing value

singular. noun.

  1. an institution’s or individual’s entire preserved body of interrelated and interdependent records; a fonds
  2. an organization that collects the records of individuals, families, or other organizations; a collecting archives
  3. the building, buildings, or portion thereof housing records of continuing value
  4. the professional discipline, practice, and study of administering such collections and organizations; archivy

What is archival research?

Typically this refers to a type of research where the researcher seeks out and identifies evidence from archival records. These records may be held either in collecting institutions such as libraries and museums, or in the custody of the creating organization (whether a government body, business, family, or other agency) that originally generated or accumulated them, or in that of a successor body (transferring, or in-house archives). Archival research is different from (1) secondary research (undertaken in a library or online), which involves identifying and consulting secondary sources relating to the topic of enquiry like published books; and (2) with other types of primary research and empirical investigation such as fieldwork and experiment.

What is a record?

Like the term "archives" a record for practical purposes here refers to the physical object that is preserved for both immediate and historical value. More precise definitions include:


  1. information or data stored on a medium and used as an extension of human memory or to support accountability
  2. information or data created or received by an organization in the course of its activities; organizational record

Archival Databases and Catalogs

Search Special Collections & Archives
Use the quick search links to browse only Special Collections & Archives holdings at the Monroe Library.

Loyola New Orleans Library Online Catalog
The library’s online catalog contains information about the books, e-books, music scores, videos (both DVD and VHS), and sound recordings that the library owns. The catalog also contains detailed information about the print journal and magazine titles that the library owns, but it does not contain citations for individual articles. For more help in using the catalog, ask a librarian, review our FAQs.

Louisiana Digital Library
The Louisiana Digital Library (LDL) is an online library of more than 400,000 digital items from Louisiana archives, libraries, museums, and other repositories, making unique historical treasures accessible to students, researchers, and the general public in Louisiana and across the globe. The items in the Louisiana Digital Library are as diverse and interesting as the people and places in Louisiana, with photographs, maps, manuscript materials, books, oral histories, and more documenting the state’s history and culture.

OCLC WorldCat
Catalog of books, web resources, and other material worldwide in OCLC member libraries. (Does not include book chapters or individual articles in journals, magazines, and newspapers.) Includes considerable non-English language material.