How to: Searching Archive Collections

What are archives? 

Archives, or archival collections, are permanently valuable records - such as letters, photographs, manuscripts, reports, and audiovisual materials - of people, businesses, and the government. The archives housed at the Center for Creative Photography are kept because they offer continuing value and unlimited research potential to future users. These materials are documentary evidence of past events, and hold the facts we use to interpret and understand history. 

What are finding aids? 

Finding aids are collection guides that provide information about the creation, historical context, and contents of primary source materials. Archivists create finding aids to describe the organization, origin, extent, contents, dates, topics, and creators of the records, in brief summaries or detailed inventories. Finding aids enable users to discover materials, decide what they want to explore in person, and accurately request materials for use.

Finding aid search tips

Basic searching:

  • To begin a search, use the search bar on the Center for Creative Photography Archives page.

  • You can return to the home page at any time by selecting the “Home” tab.

  • Searches are not case sensitive. 

  • Unless you know the name of the collection or item you are looking for, it is best to start with a search set to “search all record types” by “keyword”, then narrow down your search results from the search results page.

  • If you are looking for something within a particular archive, navigate to that collection, and then enter search terms into the “Search Collection” box located at the top right of the archive’s main page.

Advanced searching:





Nancy Newhall OR Beaumont Newhall

Must contain any word; broadens your search to include multiple search terms.


Louise Dahl-Wolfe AND color

Must contain all words; to find materials that contain all of your search terms.


Noskowiak NOT Weston

Provides results that do not contain the specific word.


“Water in the West”

Produces results containing exact phrases of two or more words by including quotation marks.


“women photography”~3

Searches terms within a specified number of words of another. Will return results where the term “photography” occurs within 3 words of the term “women”


Single character wildcard. Replaces a single letter in a search term. Wom?n will return both “woman” and “women”. May not be used as the first character of a word.


Margaret* Mather

Multiple character wildcard. Replaces any number of letters at the end of a search term. Margaret* will return “Margaret” and “Margareth”. May not be used as the first character of a word.


“Ansel Adams” -publishing rights trust

Excludes a word or term from your search. For example, searching “Ansel Adams” -publishing rights trust will find materials with the phrase “Ansel Adams” but will not include the words “publishing rights trust”.

Narrowing your results: 

  • To use a wildcard in combination with another search term (e.g. wom?n photographers), use the + icon to create another row and enter each search term in a separate row.

  • Create advanced searches by clicking the + button to add a new line to your search.

  • Once you’ve initiated a search and are on the search results page, you can use the filter pane on the right side of the page to further limit and customize results.

  • You may also use the search bar at the top of the filter pane to create additional searches within the search results. 


Navigating finding aids: 

The top of each collection page includes the title of the collection (1) followed by the collection identifier (AG #) for the collection (2).

Under the title and call number, you will see breadcrumbs (3) that help you orient yourself in each record page. These breadcrumbs are also visible at lower levels of description on series, sub-series, and file pages. Breadcrumbs are a great way to help you figure out where you are in the collection and navigate back up through a collection organization.

Tip: On pages for series, sub-series, files, and items within collections, you will always see the title and call number, and the breadcrumbs, in the same place at the top of the page. Next to the call number, you’ll also see box and folder information.

Under the breadcrumbs, you have the option of three different views for collection description (4). From left to right, the views are:

  • Collection Overview: A descriptive overview of the collection as a whole. Here you will find top-level collection information, similar to what you might see in a catalog record. You will see different types of finding aid notes, including scope and contents (collection description), biographical or historical notes about the creator, dates and languages, the size of the collection, and information about potential restrictions and how to access the collection. 

  • Collection Organization: You’ll see a dynamic scrollable view of the full collection, including the inventory of collection contents. This view includes only abbreviated notes for each item in the collection. Click on the item link for a complete view of each one or to place a request.

  • Container Inventory: Shows a list of all the boxes or containers storing this collection. You may see just one or two boxes listed, or you may see 500 boxes listed! Clicking on each box link will give you a list of the contents of each box. This is helpful if you are following a citation or note that only includes a box and folder number, not an item title.

At the top right of the page, you will see buttons for actions (5). From here you can:

  • See a complete citation for the collection or item

  • Download a printable PDF finding aid

On the right side of the page, you will see the Navigate the Collection menu (6) which shows you a dynamic interactive inventory of the collection.

  • You can open and collapse each section of the collection to see what is nested inside each series or subseries by utilizing the (>) icon. These sections open automatically as you navigate to lower levels of description.

  • This is a great way to jump around to different places in the collection and place requests.

  • You can also find items within the collection by entering search terms and/or dates into the “Search collection” search bar at the top of this section.

You can expand the Navigate the Collection (7) section by clicking and dragging the resize bar at the left of the section. This may be helpful for reading longer file titles. It will revert to a default size when you navigate to a new page.

In the “Collection Overview” view, the center of the page contains important descriptive information (8) about the collection, starting with the most important information like a summary of contents and collection dates, extent (size and number of boxes), and information about access and restrictions.

Additional description can be found below in expandable labeled sections. You’ll find important contextual information here about how we organized the collection and how it came to the library. You will also find some administrative information about this finding aid which tells you a bit more about how archivists create finding aids. You can collapse or expand each section by clicking on the section title.


We ask that you cite the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona with the credit line below: 

[Archive name, dates. AG #.] Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.

Visit the University of Arizona Libraries’ “Write & Cite” page ( for more information on why and how to cite.

Requesting materials or research assistance

You may email us at with your reference questions or to set up an appointment and request materials for viewing. 

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