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Stanford University Archives: Using University Archives Collections

The Stanford University Archives is the official repository for records of Stanford University and serves as its institutional memory.


This guide offers an introduction to using University Archives collection materials. It includes procedures for visiting the Department as well as instructions for identifying, accessing and working with Special Collections materials.

The Department of Special Collections and University Archives acquires, preserves, and makes available materials of enduring historic value to support the research needs of Stanford students and faculty, and the larger community of scholars. Collections include personal papers of scientists, artists, political activists, and writers; photographs; manuscript drafts; rare books; audio visual materials and more. For more information visit the Special Collections and University Archives website.

Access to collections is provided through Stanford Libraries' Catalog, SearchWorks.

Stanford University instructors interested in teaching with Special Collections materials should consult the Teaching with Special Collections LibGuide.

Accessing University Archives materials

University Archives materials must be requested several days in advance of your planned visit. Researchers must make an appointment with our Special Collections Reading Room to access the requested archival materials. 

The Special Collections Reading Room is located on the second floor of the Green Library Bing Wing. 

  • Consult current guidelines about visiting Special Collections.
  • Find general information about Special Collections hours and access.
  • To arrange an introductory drop in session, contact the Special Collections by email.

Special Collections Reading Room contact information

Consult current guidelines before visiting Special Collections.

For information about accessing collections or to to arrange an introductory drop-in session, contact Special Collections by email.

Special Collections Public Services staff are:

  • Tim Edward Noakes, Head of Public Services, Department of Special Collections
  • Leif Erik Anderson, Public Services Library Specialist, Special Collections

Tips and helpful links

Tips for Special Collections patrons
  • Use Stanford Libraries' catalog SearchWorks to page requested items at least two days ahead of time.
  • Wash hands before arriving. Remember that food and drink are not permitted.
  • All personal belongings, except pencils, cell phones, laptop computers, and loose-leaf paper should be placed in the reading room lockers before entering Special Collections.
  • Photography is allowed, and Reading Room staff will discuss the necessary procedures upon arrival.
  • Magnetic media must be digitized before use. Place a request at least 2 weeks in advance using SearchWorks.
  • No more than five items may be paged at one time [i.e., books, manuscript boxes, etc.].
  • Consult Guidelines for handling materials prior to your visit.
Helpful links

Access University Archives materials

Special Collections materials are located in remote facilities, and patrons must request materials two full business days before planned date of use. In some cases, paging may take up to a week. All materials can be paged online.  

Paging materials must take place via the Libraries’ online catalog, SearchWorks, which may also provide links to finding aids (detailed collection guides) hosted by the Online Archive of California (OAC), and offer links to related online content.

Limiting SearchWorks results to Library -> Special Collections is the most effective way to narrow a search for materials in Special Collections.

For archival and manuscript collections, start your search with SearchWorks, then use the Online Archive of California (OAC) to search across or within finding aids, to determine the specific boxes from a collection that you wish to examine. The Online Archive of California provides helpful information about searching finding aids. 

This video example demonstrates how to use SearchWorks to identify, locate and request materials in a manuscript collection. Please note that each collection or item is unique and a variety of strategies can be used to search for materials. Contact Special Collections via email with questions about using SearchWorks.

Guidelines for handling University Archives materials

Reading room staff provide patrons with information about handling Special Collections upon their arrival.

For additional information about how to handle Special Collections materials view videos created by Stanford Libraries' Conservation Services Department.

Please follow these general guidelines to ensure that collections are cared for and will be available for future users:

  • Handle archival and library materials gently. Your careful actions safeguard archival and library materials for future users.
  • Wash and dry your hands immediately before working with special collections.
  • All personal belongings, except pencils, cell phones, and laptop computers should be placed in the reading room lockers.
  • Food and drink are not permitted.
  • Always use a pencil, never a pen or marker.
  • Notify reading room staff if an item or enclosure is damaged in a way that makes safe handling difficult so that it may receive conservation attention.

Books and bound volumes

  • Keep volumes on the table; do not hold in hands.
  • Do not rest your hand, arm, or any object on a book or manuscript.
  • Use a book cradle and special weights to hold the book open.
  • Ask for assistance with any fragile, heavy, or awkward items, especially scrapbooks.


  • Remove only one folder at a time from manuscript boxes.
  • Use the blue card as a place holder for folders as they are removed.
  • Keep folders and pages flat on: table; do not hold in your hands.
  • Maintain the order in each folder.
  • Never remove manuscript pages from folders.
  • Align pages carefully but do not tap pages to realign them.
  • Use a separate folder to turn over fragile or large items.
  • Ask for assistance with folded, rolled, and other awkward items.


  •      Wear nitrile gloves and use two hands when handling photographs

Copyright and duplication


While the Department of Special Collections and University Archives is the repository for collections, we are not necessarily the copyright holder. It is the responsibility of the researcher to procure copyright before the Department of Special Collections provides their permission, as well as proper credit and citation language. The Library of Congress and the U.S. Copyright Office are good resources for questions concerning copyright. 


The Public Services Division provides PDF scans, high-resolution tiffs, and digital surrogates of media: audiocassettes, VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs, and reel-to-reel tapes. Visit the Special collections website for more information on Requesting copies.