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University Archives

Guide to using resources held by the Carnegie Mellon University Archives.

What are finding aids?

Finding aids are inventories or indexes that archivists create for collections in their care. They include:

  • Information on the collection’s provenance (origins)
  • A brief overview or abstract about what can be found in the collection and who created it
  • The extent or number of boxes in the collection 
  • A date range for when the contents were created
  • A series or folder level inventory

Finding aids also often include some biographical information about the person or entity who created the records as well as information on how it was organized, what, if anything, was discarded during the organization process, and links to related materials in the University Archives holdings.

What do we mean when we say "processed"?

Processing a collection means getting it ready for everyone to use. When we receive a new collection of archival records, materials, or artifacts, it’s often unorganized and in poor physical condition - imagine haphazardly emptying your filing cabinet or desktop at work and sending all the files to the University Archives.

To process a collection of physical papers or records, we assess any preservation concerns, organize it by type or chronological order, and rehouse it in acid-free containers. We also write descriptions of the folder contents and create an inventory of the folders. The inventory serves as the basis of the finding aid to the collection, the primary tool archivists and researchers use to understand and access our collections. When we process a collection, it can take anywhere from an hour to several years, depending on its size, organization, and contents.

Ways to find materials

To determine if the University Archives has what you are looking for, start your research by using our search tools to locate materials relevant to your topic.

Finding Aids

One of the tools archivists create to make the collections more discoverable is finding aids. You can search across all of the University Archives' finding aids here: 

Your search results will look like this:

This particular record is for acalled the Edward R. Shatz Papers. In the Scope and Contents note, you will find more information about the collection, like what it consists of and who created it. The Dates field will tell you when the materials were created, and the Identifier is a unique number we give to each collection. To find out more about the collection and how it might be relevant to your research, click on the collection title, and it will take you to the complete finding aid. 

Here's another example of a search result:

This record is for a or a folder labeled Student Demonstrations, Campus Disturbances, 1967-1970. This folder is part of the Edward R. Schatz Papers, which has been organized into several series. This folder is part of the Vice President of Academic Affairs series. More information about the series is located in the Scope and Contents note. This particular folder is located in Box 15. To learn about what other folders might be near this one or more about what is in this collection, click on the folder title, and it will take you to the complete finding aid. 

When requesting to access materials, include the name of the collection and the box number in your request. 


Occasionally you will run into a record that looks like this:

Records withmeans that the collection has not been processed. Unprocessed collections do not have finding aids or inventories. Collections are unprocessed either because they are new or because we have not had an opportunity to process them yet. While we strive to provide access to all materials in our care, periodically we cannot provide access to a collection that has not been processed. Please contact us if you are interested in learning more about the collection and we will try to accommodate your request.


Digital Collections

The Carnegie Mellon University Libraries have been providing online access to digitized content since 1997. While our digital collections cover a broad range of topics, our primary focus is on providing access to materials documenting the history of Carnegie Mellon University, including materials that help tell the story of computer science, artificial intelligence, and robotics. 

You can search across all of our digital collections here:

Each digital collection has a landing page that gives you a brief overview of the collection, creation dates, rights information, highlights, and other information.