Libraries organize materials by subject areas: think of call numbers and how books related to one subject can be found on the same shelf. Archives are not organized by subject, but rather by the person(s) who created, used and collected the records. Archivists arrange and describe records as they were kept originally. For example, the Office of the President records are kept in the context in which they were created but these records can cover a unlimited range of subjects: from the introduction of coeducation, the 1968 student strike, to the divestment from South Africa protests.
Sometimes looking for archival collections to use in research may be pretty straightforward: if you know the relevant individuals (Jacques Barzun) and/or creators (Office of the Provost), you can look at their records to see how they inform your research. Other times, it may not be as obvious which archival collections contain records related to your research subject. The University Archives staff has put together these subject research guides to point out resources, both online and in our archival collections, that may inform these popular research areas.
In addition to the archival collections, you may also want to consult the Oral History Archives. Since its founding in 1948 as the world’s first institutional home of oral history, the Columbia Center for Oral History has been a resource for scholars, students, activists, artists, and many others to mine the living history of New York City and of our world. The Center seeks to record unique life histories, document the central historical events and memories of our times, provide public programming, and teach and do research across the disciplines. At over 15,000 interviews, the Oral History Archives is one of the largest oral history collections in the United States. You can find interviews with individuals who are (or were) Columbia alumni, faculty and staff, transcripts of talks, lectures and speeches, as well as interviews related to Columbia projects, organizations and groups in their research guide or use the Oral History Portal to search their collections.
Archival collections are non-circulating and can only be viewed in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library's reading room (RBML). In order to use the University Archives collections at the RBML, researchers are required to register their own Special Collections Research Account before their visit and to validate the account in person with government-issued photo identification or Columbia ID card.
Once you have created your Special Collections Research Account, you will be able to request the materials directly from the finding aid or the CLIO record.
Materials stored onsite can be made available on the same day and will be paged when you sign into the Reading Room. However, due to space constraints, many collections are housed offsite and require advance notice for retrieval. We prefer 5 business days advanced notice to retrieve materials from offsite storage, but generally require at least 3 business days to process such requests.
Use your Special Collections Research Account to request material prior to your research visit. Once you have followed the steps to request materials, you will have the opportunity to schedule a date for your request. If you are not sure if the collection you are interested in viewing is stored offsite, if you need materials sooner, or you have other questions, do not hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance. For more information on how to access our collections, check out our Research & Access website.