Research Strategy:
Special Collections

Special Collections in Libraries

Many libraries house special collections of rare and/or unpublished materials that you can only access by traveling to the library. For example, if you were interested in doing research on American radicalism, it would be worth a trip to access the Russel B. Nye Popular Culture Collection at Michigan State University's library. While doing my graduate work, I spent so much time in the Russell B. Nye Collection that I was permitted to simply leave my sweater in the room so it would be available the next time I visited. I have also donated materials to the collection.

Often, special collections are in "closed stacks." This means that you are not given direct access to the materials. Instead, you tell the library what you desire and she or he gets it for you. Other restricts might also apply to special collections: pencils only, no back packs, et cetera.

Because of the time commitment it may take to use a special collection, it is a good idea to establish a working relationship with a librarian before you travel to the library. Often, the librarian will be able to prepare the materials you need before you arrive at the library.

Special Collections Held by Organizations/Businesses

Many organizations will have a collection of resources concerning their work which they are willing to make available to outside researchers. For example, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills maintains a library and archive that is open to the public.

Not all collections take the form of paper. Special collections of artifacts can be viewed at area museums such as the Plymouth Historical Museum.

Privately Held Collections

Sometimes, you can identify an individual who has a collection of materials on your subject area; materials that she or he will make available for your use. To get access to such materials, you will need to establish a relationship with the individual using skills similar to the ones you would employ if you wanted to set up an interview.

Members of the Faculty

One reason to get to know your instructor is because he or she might have materials relevant to your research. Or your instructor might be able to refer you to another member of the faculty. Getting access to research materials is but one good reason to discuss your research paper with him or her during office hours or by appointment.

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The Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan maintains a special collections library that can be accessed on-line.