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Guide to Archival Research

A guide on using archival materials held in the University Archives

Getting Started

Some archival material has been digitized and is available online via the Archives Catalogue and Online Collections or DalSpace.

Most material, however, must be accessed on-site in the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room on the 5th floor of the Killam Memorial Library.  Normally you will need a reference code that consists of a collection identifier, a box number, and a folder number. Reference codes help us identify and locate files within a collection.

You can find reference codes by searching the archives catalogue. This research guide has detailed instructions on how to search the archives catalogue and how to browse the archives catalogue. You can also visit the Reading Room for research assistance.

Once you have identified material you want to view, there are a few simple steps:

  1. Submit request
  2. Provide photo ID
  3. View the material in the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room on the 5th floor of the Killam Library.
  4. Return materials to the information desk.

1. Submit Request

Once you have identified the material you want to view, you can submit a retreival request to staff in the Archives. This can be done in a few ways:

  • Email your request to
  • Call the Reference Desk in the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room at (902) 494-3615
  • Fill out a request slip at the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room

You will need to visit the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room to view the material regardless of how you submit your retrieval request.

Our request slips are used for archival materials and materials from the Special Collections Department.  The request slips have room for you to write some key information about your request:

  • Retrieval Code (this usually includes a collection identifier, box number, and folder number)
  • Author (this usually only applies to Special Collections materials)
  • Title
  • Archives or Special Collections (are you requesting archival material or a published book?)
  • Date
  • The time you are making the request (staff will fill out the time the materials are returned)
  • Your name and contact information

DUASC call slip

2. Provide Photo ID

After you submit your retrieval request, staff will retrieve the materials you requested and bring them to you. When you are viewing the material, you will be asked to leave your DalCard or other photo ID at the Reference Desk.

3. View the Material

You are free to view the material anywhere in the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room. You can request photocopies of material. All photocopying is done by staff in accordance with Canadian copyright legislation.

Archival material can be fragile. This guide contains guidelines on handling archival material. Staff may give you cradles to support fragile bindings or white gloves to handle photographs. Photocopies of some fragile or high-use material have been made for reference purposes.

Pens and highlighters are not allowed in the Reading Room. You should bring pencils or your laptop to take notes.

4. Return the Materials

When you're finished using the materials you requested, bring them back to the Reference Desk.  Archives and Special Collections staff will return your DalCard or Photo ID and return the materials back in the archives for safe storage. 

If you are planning on coming back to use the materials, notify the staff.  We can give you the carbon copy of your request form so you have the retrieval information handy. We can also temporarily store the materials for you so they will be readily available for your next visit.

Archives Document Delivery Service

Did you know the University Archives is piloting a new service where you can request free digital copies of files and items from the Archives Catalogue and Online Collections?

Check the Archives Document Delivery Service page for more information.