Locating Primary Sources in Archives West

Open Archives West in another browser window to work through this tutorial side by side.


This tutorial gives you tips on searching for archival materials through the Archives West website.

This tutorial covers:

  • Background information Archives West and primary research
  • Search tips
  • How to locate physical materials
  • How to access digital materials
  • How to request access to physical materials

You will use the arrows below to move through the tutorial and follow along by completing the guided searches in the Library catalog to the right.

What is Archives West?

Archives West provides access to descriptions of primary sources housed in special collections and archives across the western United States, including diaries, correspondence, photographs, and more. Such materials provide first-hand evidence of history and allow you to form a unique perspective of historical events and time-periods.

In some cases, digital versions of the materials are provided. If you are interested in exploring all material digitized from USU Special Collections and Archives, visit our Digital History Collections page.

Searching for Primary Sources

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If you are beginning the research process and just want to browse possible areas of research you can browse by Subject on the right side of the page. Each subject pulls up a list or related sub-topics.

Search by subject

Think about a broad topic that might be of interest to you and think about where it might live in that list.


If you are interested in Mormon pioneers, which subject should you choose?

Searching for Primary Sources

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To begin searching for materials in Archives West you enter your keywords in the search bar in the upper right corner.

Let’s say we are interested in viewing primary sources on World War II. In the search bar let’s enter “World War II” then click search.

What happens?

Searching for Primary Sources

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This topic is extremely broad and we get over 2,500 results. So, we need to narrow our topic to something that is interesting and relevant to us.

We can get ideas for more narrowed topics from our results list by looking at the titles, summary and refining results.

Narrowing the topic

What are some ways we could narrow our topic? 

Searching for Primary Sources

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One subject that stands out to us could be “Japanese Americans – Evacuation, Relocation, 1942 -1945.” So, let’s revise our search to “Japanese Internment” in the search bar at the top right and click search.

Searching for Primary Sources

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This narrows our results to 180 which is much more manageable! Now we can focus on choosing materials that look interesting.

We can continue to refine our results using the Refine Search tab on the left side of the page.

Which is not an option for refining results?

Right now, we are viewing results from multiple institutions which we can see in the “repository” tab on the left. Let’s focus only materials located at the USU Library by clicking that tag.

Choosing Materials

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Now we can scroll through the results to find items that sound interesting and might be useful in our research of Japanese internment.

Choosing materials

Let’s say this collection of items on the Topaz Internment camp looks interesting. To learn more about it we can click the title.

Choosing Materials

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This opens the finding aid that provides detailed information about the collection. Let’s take a close look at the information to see if this collection is relevant to our research.

This page gives you valuable information such as:

  • Content creator
  • Date range
  • Summary/Content Description
  • Related Collections
  • Biographical and Historical Context
  • Detailed Description of the Collection

Peruse this information to determine if this resource will be useful! You can use your browser’s “find in page” feature to locate specific keywords (control+F on a PC and command+F on a Mac).'

Choosing Materials

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Which of the following finding aid tools is most important in determining how we could incorporate this collection in our research?

Accessing Materials

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Now that we’ve investigated the record page and we’ve determined that this collection looks relevant to our interests we need to figure out how we can actually find this material in USU’s Special Collections and Archives.

To locate the physical items, write down the “Collection Number” that is available under “overview of the collection.”

Overview of the collection

Accessing Materials

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Write down the box and folder number as well. If you aren’t sure about this part, that’s ok. You can get help at the next step: visiting USU’s Special Collections & Archives.

Collection folders

USU’s Special Collection & Archives (SCA) is on the Lower Level of the Merrill-Cazier Library. Go to the SCA Help Desk, give them the collection number (and box number if you have it), fill out necessary forms and they can retrieve the material(s) for you.

Using SCA Materials

Please note that SCA operating hours are different than the rest of the library. Visit the SCA Website to confirm their hours.

Rules for Using SCA Materials  

  • First time users must fill out registration form
  • SCA materials do not leave the SCA Reading Room
  • Only 3 items may be used at a time
  • Only pencils are allowed and personal items must be placed in on-site lockers
  • No food or beverages are allowed

For complete rules and regulations visit the SCA Website.

True or false: SCA visitors can take special collections materials home with them.


Research Help

Historical research can be hard. That’s why we have a great staff at SCA to help you! Visit SCA on the Lower Level of the Merrill-Cazier Library or call them at 435-797-8248.

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