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University Archives and Manuscripts

Information about how to conduct research in University Archives and Manuscripts.

Plan Research and Visit

What should I expect when conducting research in University Archives and Manuscripts? Here are six easy steps to follow to research archival and manuscript collections:

  1. Select a topic - person, place, or event.  Your research may have a general theme but it is easiest to research specific people, places, or events.  Look at a few published sources that may provide background information, including the Encyclopedia Brunoniana.  If you have questions, contact us via the Question Form.  
  2. Identify what collection(s) you wish to view and which boxes you wish to see within that collection.  Each collection guide (also called a finding aid) contains an inventory that lists what materials are in the collection and in what boxes they are stored. Decide which boxes you wish to view.  We can place up to 12 items (from one collection or different collections) on reserve for a researcher at one time. As you look through these and has them discharged, other boxes can be placed on reserve.  You will be able to look at up to 6 items at a time in the Special Collections Reading Room.
  3. Create an Aeon account to request materials.  For University Archives and Manuscripts materials you will need to enter the collection name, call number, and boxes you would like to view in the Special Collections Reading Room.  Be sure to submit your request at least 3 business days before you plan to visit. Staff may have to retrieve materials from an off-site location and cannot produce the materials immediately upon request.  The materials will be placed on reserve for you to look at in the John Hay Library Special Collections Reading Room.  If you have any questions contact us via the Question Form.  
  4. Visit the John Hay Library and be prepared to show identification, complete your registration, and lock your personal belongings in a locker. While all archivists and librarians want you to be able to see this special stuff, we also need to make sure it survives for future generations to experience. We follow these procedures with everyone who wishes to use our materials. Feel free to bring your laptop, books, and paper into the Reading Room.  We recommend that you bring a digital camera with you in case you see material you would like to reproduce - but be sure to ask permission before taking any photographs.
  5. Use your head, write with lead.  Bring some pencils with you to the archives because pens are not allowed (have you ever had a pen explode on you before?). When you are using the materials, please do so with care. Pay attention to what you are doing and how you are doing it. If you have any doubts at all about how to handle something, ask. We are always happy to help. Remember, most of these items are one-of-a-kind. If something is ruined, there are often no other copies to be had!
  6. Spread the word! After your primary source experience, be sure to tell others about it. The best way to ensure that these exciting, interesting materials stay accessible for years to come is to continue having engaged patrons like you. How do we do that? With your help – word of mouth!

Accessing Brown University Archives Materials

The Brown University Archives, part of Special Collections, are maintained in the John Hay Library at Brown University.  The University Archives is the official repository for the historical records of Brown University.  

Helpful Links:


To learn more about using the John Hay Library, consult the John Hay Library website or contact us via the Question Form.