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Research Assistance

Begin your research at our Reference Desk.

The Libraries’ Special Collections provides reference services to the general public for the broad range of materials it houses. During all hours Special Collections is open, we staff our reference desk with curators and subject specialists, all with extensive knowledge about specific areas of the collections.

Starting with our reference desk is a good way to begin your research. If you need it, you may be referred to a specific curator or subject specialist to give you more in-depth assistance.


Before You Visit

We encourage you to use the UW Libraries Catalog, Databases & Lists, and Collection Guides Search (Finding Aids) in advance of your visit. Not all of our materials are represented online, but this will give you start. Searches in the Libraries online catalog can be limited to cataloged holdings of Special Collection, including some manuscript and archival collections. Our Digital Collections also contain a range of materials including photographs, books, manuscripts and archives. Searching these resources from your home computer will allow you to focus your visit on materials available to you only on-site.

Appointments for most materials and general reference research are not required, but some collections and materials are best accessed with the subject specialist. We advise that you contact Special Collections in advance if you have complex questions.


While You Are Here

When you visit Special Collections, we ask that you follow some basic procedures. For more information, see our page on Using the Collections.

Many areas of Special Collections are not represented in the online catalog and must be accessed through in-house paper finding aids or in-house databases and indices. Our reference staff is available to help you find what you are seeking. Even collections available through the online catalog may be better accessed through face-to-face contact with the curator or the subject specialist.


If You Cannot Visit

We are happy to assist you in any way we can, but we are unable to do your research for you. If you live outside the area you may be able, through email or telephone or letter, to identify the holdings in Special Collections that will meet your needs. We may be able to answer quick questions or provide you with a referral to a library close to you. We may also be able to do limited photocopying of something that will help you, but such copying may involve a fee. You may need to plan a trip to visit us to take full advantage of our many resources. Please contact Special Collections, and we can advise you on a case-by-case basis what we are able to do for you. In some cases, we can provide contact information for researchers who can do work for you for hire (link will open a PDF). Please note, however, that clients who come into Special Collections get the first priority.