OWL logo
General WritingResearch and CitationTeaching and TutoringSubject-Specific WritingJob Search WritingESL
OWL at Purdue Logo

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/). When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice at bottom.

It's Here: A new look for the Purdue OWL!

The new version of the Purdue OWL is available at https://owl.purdue.edu/. Worry not! Our navigation menu and content will remain largely the same. In 9 days, we will be discontinuing owl.english.purdue.edu and you will be automatically redirected to the new site.

Handling Materials


This resource discusses conducting research in a variety of archives. It also discusses a number of considerations and best practices for conducting archival research.

This resources was developed in consultation with Purdue University Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections staff. 

Contributors:Michael Maune, Nicholas Marino, and Gina Hurley
Last Edited: 2013-10-06 03:01:53

Archival materials are collected and housed in archives because they are rare and unique. Because of this quality, these materials often cannot be replaced. If archival materials are damaged, the historical content that they contain may be lost forever. Therefore, it is important to practice care when using archival materials. Below you will find guidelines on how to use specific kinds of archival materials in ways that protects and preserves them for future researchers.

General Guidelines


Manuscripts are various forms of papers, including (but not limited to) correspondence, reports, meeting minutes, speeches. Manuscripts may be in the form of fragile or brittle paper. Older manuscripts may be vulnerable to tears and crumbling. Some manuscripts are copies printed on onion-skin paper, which is also easy to tear. Furthermore, manuscript collections are also vulnerable to disorganization. Oftentimes manuscript materials are housed in folders with a specific order that is important to understanding how the creator of the collection used the materials. The organizational information is also important for researchers. In order to protect the materials physically and organizationally, following these guidelines:

Rare Books

Rare books are published or unpublished volumes that are limited in number. Often rare books will also be old and fragile; however, some rare books are new but were not printed many times. Regardless, you should treat rare books with care, being sure to follow these guidelines:


Photographs in archival collections may come in a variety of forms, including daguerroeotypes, cyanotypes, and other obsolete formats of photography. Some collections may also contain negatives, either in film or glass form. All of these forms are fragile and vulnerable to oils from skin that can accumulate and damage the photographic materials. To use these materials in a safe way, follow these guidelines:

Oversized Materials

Oversized materials come in many forms, but they all share the same feature of being larger than normal manuscripts. Materials that are often oversized include maps, portraits, and posters. These materials should be handled similarly to their manuscript counterparts. However, there are few extra guidelines to keep in mind when using oversized materials:


Artifacts come in many formats. In general, any three dimensional object that is not in a manuscript, photographic, or book form may be an artifact (there may be some exceptions). Artifacts are often stored in boxes or are wrapped with tissue paper or bubble wrap to protect them from accidentally being bumped or accumulating dust. Because the types of artifacts vary so much, there are few universal rules for handling them beyond what has already been mentioned. Ask the archives staff about proper use of artifacts in research.

Even though these rules may seem daunting, archivists are on hand to help you through the process of handling materials. Please remember, these rules exist to preserve archival materials for future use.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.