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Starting Your Research

Special Collections and University Archives is the main repository for rare books, University Archives, and manuscripts on the Vanderbilt University campus. We welcome all researchers to use our collections in our reading room.

Finding Material

Special Collections and University Archives has a wide variety of online tools that describe our holdings in varying degrees of detail.

  • Rare books can be searched and requested using the Library’s Catalog.
  • Manuscript collections are described in finding aids, and can be searched using Vanderbilt’s instance of ArchivesSpace.
  • University Archives material is typically closed to the public, so we ask that you contact us about university-related topics you’re interested in. We can then find relevant material for you to use.
  • Digitized and born-digital items can be searched through our Digital Collections database built on Islandora.

For information on how to request items from our collections, please refer to the Request Materials page.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary sources include historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, speeches, memoirs, results of experiments, statistical data, creative writing, unpublished manuscripts and archives, audio and video recordings, and other documents created at the time an event occurred from people who had a direct connection to it.

Secondary sources are documents created by people removed in time from an historical event, or who were not present when the event happened. Secondary sources may include reactions and opinions of people far removed from the event being studied. Samples of secondary sources include textbooks, biographies, essays, and literary criticism.

Ask Special Collections

If you can’t find the information you need on policies, requesting materials, or specific topics, just ask Special Collections.