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About the Archives and Finding Aids

What is an Archives Repository?

An institution that collects papers, manuscripts, photographs and audio/visual materials and frequently records/archives of other institutions, usually in accordance with a predetermined acquisitions policy. (Society of American Archivists, A Glossary for Archivists, Manuscript Curators and Records Managers)

What is a Manuscript?

Manuscripts usually have historical or literary value or significance. The term is variously used to refer to archives, to artificial collections of documents acquired from various sources usually according to a plan but without regard to provenance, and to individual documents acquired by a manuscript repository because of their significance. (Society of American Archivists, A Glossary for Archivists, Manuscript Curators and Records Managers)

What is a Finding Aid?

A finding aid is an unpublished guide to the Archives Collection. It provides detailed information on the organization, agency or individual that created the records, size of the collection, historical or biographical note, the scope and content of the collection and the record/series groups. The finding aid also includes a container list, which consists of the box number, file folder number, and subject and type of material in each folder. This information will enable the researcher to identify relevant portions of each collection. Here are our online Archives Finding Aids. This site provides links to all the Archival Finding Aids at the Denver Public Library which have been encoded in XML using Encoded Archival Description.

Finding Sources

Archives Collections are cataloged in bibliographic databases. Archives cataloging is generally not to item level and usually provides an overview of the collection. Catalog records serve as a directional to a more detailed guide, called a finding aid. When looking for sources, you should anticipate a process in which you first search the bibliographic databases and catalogs for personal and/or corporate names, subjects, geographic names and other keywords. After reviewing these records, you will want to read the finding aid for the collections. It is important to point out that you may not find a direct reference to your topic in the bibliographic record or finding aid.

Access to Archives

Unique and fragile, the archival material is used on location. By signing in with the reference librarians, researchers can examine material in the J. K. Mullen Manuscript Room of the Western History/Genealogy Department, Level 5 of the Central Library. Researchers can search the Collection in the Library's catalog. Searches can be conducted by surname (e.g., Hoyt), subject (e.g. mining), or type of material (e.g. diary, ledger). Finding aids are also available for a portion of the Archives Collections. Researchers can request to use the finding aid when visiting the Western History/Genealogy Department.

Planning Your Research

Although it is not required, it is wise to contact the Western History/Genealogy Department before making your first visit. Contacting the Department will save you time in the long run and will give you an opportunity to find out if the archive can realistically help your research or give you an estimate of how long your research will take.

If traveling from a distance, please contact the Department beforehand. With advanced notice, we can verify that the material is housed at the Library, prepare and pull the material for your visit and if necessary conduct a limited amount of research on your behalf. To inquire about our services or to make a request, contact the Western History/Genealogy Department by typed letter, telephone, or e-mail. When you write, be sure to lay out your request as succinctly as you can including names, dates, places, and specific documents.


Upon entering the Reading Room, you will be asked to fill out a registration form which will ask for your name and address, the title of the collection desired and a picture ID. This document ensures that researchers are familiar with the archives policies on copyright, restrictions, and photocopying.


The Western History staff will photocopy all requests. If the paper is in poor condition, the material may not be photocopied. Copying large segments of a collection or an entire collection is not permitted.

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Updated: June 25, 2013