Introduction to Archives
Welcome to the Bentley Historical Library! If this is your first exposure to an archives this will provide an introduction.
According to the Society of American Archivists (SAA), archives are: "... ~ 1. Materials created or received by a person, family, or organization, public or private, in the conduct of their affairs and preserved because of the enduring value contained in the information they contain or as evidence of the functions and responsibilities of their creator, especially those materials maintained using the principles of provenance, original order, and collective control; permanent records. 2. The division within an organization responsible for maintaining the organization's records of enduring value. 3. An organization that collects the records of individuals, families, or other organizations; a collecting archives. 4. The professional discipline of administering such collections and organizations. 5. The building (or portion thereof) housing archival collections. 6. A published collection of scholarly papers, especially as a periodical. "Archives.
Manuscript collections, also referred to as "personal papers" or simply "papers," were created or collected by an individual or family. For example: the Ferry Family Papers which document the history of a pioneer Detroit business family.
Record groups, or "records," are the archives of an organization, business, or governmental body. Any materials created during or related to the professional activities of the organization, business, etc. may be included in the record group. Examples of record groups are the records of the Ann Arbor Temperance Society, Hannah and Lay Company of Traverse City and the University of Michigan Department of Physics.
Archives are comprised of Primary and Secondary sources. The SAA definition of a primary source is "n. ~ Material that contains firsthand accounts of events and that was created contemporaneous to those events or later recalled by an eyewitness." primary source
Examples of Primary Sources include:
- letters and diaries
- maps and land records
- government, church and business records
- photographs, motion pictures and videos
- oral histories
Many of the items listed above are original, unique materials not published or duplicated elsewhere that document peoples' lives, and the activities of university departments, organizations, and businesses. They were donated to the archives, most often by those who created them, so that they could be preserved and made available to others for research and enjoyment.
Secondary sources according to SAA are "n. ~ 1. A work that is not based on direct observation of or evidence directly associated with the subject, but instead relies on sources of information. 2. A work commenting on another work (primary sources), such as reviews, criticism, and commentaries." secondary source
Secondary sources compliment our holdings by adding context and additional subject matter.
Since the Bentley holdings are unique, they are also "non-circulating," meaning they are used by researchers solely at the Bentley Library in the reading room.
Storage of Materials
The material held in archives is organized and stored differently than in a library. Archival material is organized into manuscript collections or record groups which may be as small as a single item or large enough to fill hundreds of boxes. The contents of a collection are not indexed item by item but rather at a folder level. Collections are described on a surface level in MIRLYN, the University of Michigan online public access catalog. Finding Aids are inventories that describe the collections in greater detail. Finding aids are available at the Bentley, and many are now accessible online through MIRLYN and through the Bentley website as well.
Research in Archives
When conducting research in archives, large blocks of time are much more useful than short stints. We recommend a visit of at least a couple of hours. It also helps to begin your archival research by carefully formulating the questions you are trying to answer and having already done some reading in secondary published sources if possible. Research is a process.
Our policies on use stem in part from our concerns about security and preservation. It is because the majority of the library's holdings are irreplaceable that it is important they be preserved. Please refer to the Guide to Use and the Planning Ahead sections if you are considering a visit to the Bentley Library.
The reference staff is eager to offer assistance, especially if you have never visited an archives before. We welcome you to come!