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Navigating NYU Archives

This guide will help you orient yourself with the tools, organization, and access policies of New York University Archives.

How are NYU's Archives organized?

Methods of Organization

There are lots of different ways archives could be organized: around a particular subject, the format of a record, the time period a record was created, or the person, department, or organization that created the records. 

NYU's Archives, like many archives, are organized according to record creator. Sometimes called "provenance," this method of organization uses the origin of records to help researchers understand the context in which a record was created. 

Call Numbers

Just like every book in NYU Libraries has a call number, so do archival collections. The difference is that instead of using a standard alphanumeric code assigned by a larger organization like the Library of Congress, archivists here at NYU Libraries created our own system to match the way NYU is organized.

Record Groups (RGs)

Some of our collections use a record group number as the call number for the collection. This number is generated using an internal system that assigns different offices and units within NYU a unique number. Records that come from that office get put into that record group and may be further organized by series within that record group. These are materials that are created in the course of NYU's functioning as an institution, so you can expect to find materials like professional correspondence, memos, reports, and meeting minutes. Collections organized by record group will have a call number that starts with RG.

Manuscript Collections (MCs)

Some other collections may come from a specific person instead of an administrative unit within NYU. These collections often come from faculty and students and include things like research notes, class notes, personal correspondence, and other materials created during the course of their time at NYU. These collections are called manuscript collections, and instead of being assigned an RG call number, their call number starts with MC, which stands for manuscript collection. These numbers are assigned in the order collections are donated to NYU Archives.

Other Call Number Codes

Occasionally, you may see some different call numbers that are not RG or MC. One example is RISM, which stands for the Research Institute of the Study of Man. These collections have this call number as part of an agreement with the donor. Two of our photographs collections (New York University Archives Photograph Collection (PHOTO.00001) and Historic Photographs and Drawings Collection (Photo.002)) also have call numbers related to the format instead of the records creator. These are legacy call numbers that we have chosen to maintain rather than re-process due to constraints on staff time and resources. 

What are the best ways to search for materials?

Building a Search Strategy

Understanding the way archives are organized can help you build a search strategy that will get you to the records you want to find. It can be helpful to think about the following questions:

  • What kind of records are you looking for?
  • Who might have created those records?
  • How did the creator organize their records?
  • How might the original purpose of records be different from the way I intend to read these records?
  • Where are there gaps in the archival record?
  • What other sources might contain information about this research?

Once you have answered some of these questions, you can take a look at the finding aid search portal and look for materials based on keywords and subject terms while also paying attention to the origin of the records.

Questions to Consider

As you search, ask yourself:

  • Is this an RG or MC collection?
  • What does that tell you about the people who created these records?
  • What types of materials can you expect to find?

Using Subject Headings

You can use Library of Congress Subject Headings in our search portal, like you can in the library catalog, but these results are not necessarily comprehensive. Archivists do their best to assign subject headings to collections, but it is impossible to account for every single subject that appears in a collection.

Using Keywords

When you use a keyword in the search portal, it searches across the words used in the description of the finding aids.

Remember, archivists also write description, and that description is informed by the archivist's observations, conversations with donors and record creators, biases, and judgement about what information might be useful for a research. That means that the way you are thinking about using a collection might be different from the way an archivist may have described the collection. You may want to try synonyms and related terms if you don't immediately find what you're looking for. 

I've tried all this, and I'm still stuck! What do I do?

Asking for Further Help

Sometimes, the most helpful search strategy can be to ask an archivist, special collections librarian, or reference associate. Please reach out to for assistance with your research.