New Tool for Searching the Archives

Searching for, and searching within, library resources has come a long way from the days of physically consulting card catalogs.  Today, faculty and students are most likely to start their searches from a keyboard or smartphone rather than on paper.  Archival materials haven’t enjoyed this same liberation—often researchers are expected to find and consult paper finding aids for archival collections based on the name of the person or organization who created or gathered the materials.  This follows the fundamental archival principle of provenance, or respect des fonds. While there are collection-level records (collection name, creator, dates, physical extent, and subject headings) in DePaul’s WorldCat Local and VuFind catalogs, SPCA has also organized archival collections in LibGuides by research topics. This topical organization still requires that researchers to 1) know we exist, 2) know where to look on our website or in LibGuides, and 3) think of their topics in language librarians chose for those topics.

ArchivesSpace logo

Enter ArchivesSpace.  ArchivesSpace is an open-source, web application designed by archivists that promotes searching and discoverability of archival collections.  SPCA has migrated nearly 75% our archival collection level records into ArchivesSpace so that researchers can search across our collections using keywords that search narrative descriptions or Library of Congress Subject Headings, and be linked to similar or related collections.  Our topical LibGuides presentation has archival collections assigned to Community Archives, University Archives, and Vincentian Archives (DeAndreis-Rosati Memorial Archives), but the ArchivesSpace database searches across collections because intellectual curiosity and research questions don’t neatly fall into administrative units.

Savvy researchers can drill down into our collection descriptions and then link to full finding aids, but perhaps more importantly, internet

Protest search
Screenshots from SPCA’s ArchivesSpace that demonstrate cross-collection searching  (click to enlarge).

keyword searches can also uncover ArchivesSpace records of archival materials held by our Special Collections and Archives.  Our ArchivesSpace database can be accessed from our Special Collections and Archives pages on the web as well as the A-Z Databases & Resources.  New collection-level records are added on an ongoing basis, and we’ll soon start to build out full descriptions so that keyword searching will mine series and folder level descriptions as well.

Special Collections and Archives is committed to providing students with the opportunity for active learning by engaging with primary sources and archival materials. We hope the addition of ArchivesSpace will help faculty and students discover primary source materials available for their teaching and research. For additional information about ArchivesSpace, or to discuss an instruction session, contact Special Collections and Archives at 773-325-7864, or, or visit us in the John T. Richardson Library, Room 314.


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