Q&A: Online listings of archives and manuscripts

Question:
What are the best resources for checking the holdings of archives and manuscript collections around the country?

Answer: 

There are a number of good databases for checking archives and manuscript collections in the United States. The basic one is the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC) done by the Library of Congress. It's freely available to all, without subscription. Here at Stanford University, the two most inclusive databases are ArchivesUSA, now known as Archive Finder, and ArchiveGrid

There is a good description of the virtues and limitations of each of these databases on the Harvard web site. As you can see from that detailed analysis, they approach archive and manuscript collections in very different ways, and in the level of detail given in the listings. As our History Curator Ben Stone said, "Even with online databases, locating relevant archival/manuscript collections is often a difficult endeavor." So one should use all the resources available. If you forget all this, you can simply type "archives" in the search box of the Databases list and these, as well as other indexes, will come up.