Special Collections - Frequently Asked Questions

General Information

Special Collections and Archives is a department within the University of Idaho Library that specializes in the acquisition, preservation, and availability of archival research materials that document the history and culture of Idaho and the University of Idaho. We have over 25,000 linear feet of rare, unique, and valuable materials. Learn more on our About page!

For more detailed information about the different types of collections we hold, please see our Descriptions of Collections page.

Topics include, but are not limited to:

  • personal papers of individuals and families
  • business records (lumber, railroad, mining, etc.)
  • Idaho state publications
  • papers of government officials, educators, authors, artists, etc.
  • organizational and association records (religious, fraternal, civic, environmental, etc.)
  • book collections on local, historical, and literary topics

Formats include, but are not limited to:

  • documents
  • photographs
  • audio/visual media
  • bound books
  • some artifacts

There are several ways to search our collections, depending on if you are looking for an entire collection, an individual photograph, or a book. To use our research tools, check out our Research Tools.

Archival materials are non-circulating, meaning you cannot check them out. You are welcome to come and view our archival materials in the Special Collections Reading Room during our open hours. You may also contact us - in some cases, we can fulfill your request remotely via digitization!

You are welcome to come and view our archival materials in the Special Collections Reading Room during our open hours. You may also contact us - in some cases, we can fulfill your request remotely via digitization!

Everyone is welcome to view our materials! You do not need to be affiliated with the University of Idaho to use Special Collections and Archives.

Although an appointment is not required, we greatly appreciate it if you let us know in advance when you plan to come into the Reading Room and what you would like to view, so we can have the materials ready for you when you arrive. Additionally, some requests can be fulfilled digitally. Please contact anyone in Special Collections to discuss your research needs and plans to visit.

No - you do not need a library card, account, or any other form of ID. Everyone is welcome to walk in or make an appointment to view our materials. For more information, see our Reading Room page.

While it is not possible to digitize everything due to the vast amount of materials (over 25,000 linear feet!), we are constantly working to digitize select collections and make them available online. To browse our digitized materials, check out our digital collections and Idaho Harvester blog.

We are located on the first floor of the University of Idaho Library. For directions to the library, see our directions page. For a wider campus map, see campus maps.

Our Reading Room is located on the first floor of the Library.

Please see our Plan Your Visit page for the most up-to-date information.

We sometimes accept volunteers or interns on a case-by-case basis depending on current needs of the department.

The library has two designated exhibit spaces on the 2nd floor of the library. They feature exhibits created from materials found in Special Collections and traveling exhibits. Other areas of the library will also periodically house exhibits. Exhibits rotate on a regular basis.


A finding aid is a detailed description and inventory of an archival collection. Similar to a Table of Contents or Index in a book, an archival finding aid is meant to tell you what is inside a given box or folder of an archival collection, so you can find what you’re looking for more quickly.

A finding aid also provides information about the types of materials in a collection (for example, photographs or written correspondence, etc.), the subjects it covers (for example, mining or women’s history, etc.), who created the materials within the collection, how it came to Special Collections and Archives, and more information.

To learn more about finding aids and how to read them, check out our video tutorial.

The Reading Room is a designated space on the first floor of the library where you may view archival materials. For more information, please see our Reading Room page.

Primary sources are documents, audio/visual materials, or artifacts that provide first-hand accounts of evidence about a historical topic or event. These materials were created or experienced by the person who created them at the same time that the topic or event in question occurred. This allows current researchers to get as close as possible to what actually happened in the past. Primary sources may include:

  • diaries
  • letters
  • financial records
  • audio/video or transcripts of interviews
  • photos or videos that capture an event
  • newspaper clippings

Secondary sources are documents or audio/visual materials that interpret or analyze a historical event or time period after-the-fact, by people who were not present during the time period or event in question. Typically, secondary sources rely on primary sources to analyze or interpret the past. Secondary sources may include:

  • most books or scholarly publications about a topic
  • documentaries

Special Collections and Archives houses mostly primary sources with some secondary sources.

Yes. Primary sources and other archival materials are still subject to intellectual property rights, copyright, and trademark laws in the United States. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to use your own words (do not copy text verbatim) and cite all of your sources!

If your professor or publisher does not require a specific citation style, here is a general guide.

Citations should lead your readers directly to the original sources you have consulted and should include as much identifying information as possible. Citations should include:

  • author or creator’s name
  • title of the work or specific item
  • date
  • publication information
  • collection title
  • box and folder number, or photograph number
  • repository (name of the archive that houses the materials)

Here’s an example from one of our collections:

“Three men and loaded gun rack inside tent,” undated. Priest Lake Museum Association Photographs, photo #17-01-26. University of Idaho Library, Special Collections and Archives, Moscow, Idaho.

Also see, “Do I need to obtain permission to publish materials from your collections” question in the FAQ or our full Citation Policy.

Yes! We realize archival research can be confusing and intimidating, even for veteran researchers. Please contact Special Collections staff and we’ll be happy to help!

Please contact us and we’ll try our best to get you the information you need.

Reproductions & Permissions

You are welcome to scan or take photos of materials, but please beware of some important information before doing so:

  • We have two flatbed scanners and computers available for patron use in our Reading Room, but the materials must be in good enough condition to withstand flatbed scanning. Personal portable scanners and other digital imaging equipment must be approved by our staff prior to use. Feed scanners are strictly prohibited. Please ask Special Collections staff before scanning materials.
  • If you are scanning or taking photos of materials for commercial purposes (as opposed to research purposes), you must obtain permission from whoever holds copyright to those materials, and you must properly cite us.
  • To avoid potential copyright or plagiarism violations, please view our Reproduction and Use Policy and Citation Policy for more information and contact us with any questions or concerns.
  • We have many materials available online through our digital collections. These are free to download and the vast majority are available for educational and research purposes. If using these images commercially, you must still ensure copyright and use proper citations.

Unfortunately, we do not provide photocopies. There are three options for obtaining digital scans of materials:

  • If you are able to visit our Reading Room, we have two flatbed scanners and computers available for patron use, but the materials must be in good enough condition to withstand flatbed scanning.
  • If you are unable to visit our Reading Room, we can sometimes provide digital scans of our materials and send them to you electronically. Our Reproductions and Use Policy has more information about the cost and restrictions on this service.
  • We have many materials available online through our digital collections. These are free to download and all digitized material are under public domain. If using these images commercially, you must still use proper citations.

The price of digital scans varies depending on the type of material being reproduced. Refer to the fees portion of our Reproductions and Use Policy for a detailed breakdown of our fees.

Unfortunately, we do not offer this service at this time.

Yes, you do need to obtain permission to publish materials from our collections, and we cannot always grant permission. When we accept materials, we agree to house them, but the original owner retains copyright and intellectual property of the materials. For this reason, we cannot grant or deny permission to publish or otherwise distribute materials if we do not hold the copyright to them. If the materials fall under the legal category of public domain, you may publish or distribute them freely.

Users are solely responsible for ensuring that they are observing Fair Use as defined in the United States Copyright Act.

Also see, “How do I cite primary sources” question in the FAQ or our full Citation Policy.


We do accept some donations of materials, yes. We primarily collect materials relating to the University of Idaho, the state of Idaho, the history of jazz, and in some cases materials relating to the larger Pacific Northwest region. We accept books, manuscripts, archival materials, photographs, and sometimes artifacts that fit our collecting scope. Please contact us for all donation inquiries and we will assess the appropriateness of your materials for our collections. Please beware that we are not able to accept everything offered, but we may be able to point you to another archival repository that may be interested in your materials.

We have several full sets of Gem of the Mountains. However, we would gladly accept any scrapbooks or diaries from students who attended the university, or photographs of campus or Moscow.

We also collect materials supporting our other university collections too, including student groups and Greek organizations. If you have something to donate, please contact us.

Archival collections frequently need cash donations to enable timely processing and underwrite the costs of long-term high security storage. Such funds are used to organize, maintain, and care for our collections so that they may be preserved and made available for future generations.

Gift funds may be used to honor an individual, a family, a company, or an organization, and the Library will work with donors to employ appropriate means to publicly acknowledge donations. To discuss setting up endowments or bequests, please contact Ben Hunter, Dean of University of Idaho Library, at bhunter@uidaho.edu or call (208) 885-5858. More information is also available on the Giving website.


We are happy to have your class visit our Reading Room where we can show materials from our collections to demonstrate our holdings and discuss what we do as archivists. We are also happy to work with professors to support class projects and assignments. Although we do not typically provide tours around our secure storage area, we can make exceptions for small groups or graduate classes. Please contact us or email Robert Perret directly to discuss instruction opportunities.

We gladly support professors in using Special Collections and Archives materials in their classes. We offer one off instruction sessions and more in-depth support for class assignments. Fill out our brief Instruction Request Form and we will be in contact shortly about how we can support your class.

International Jazz Collections

The International Jazz Collections (IJC) was formally established at the University of Idaho in 2000, featuring papers and photographs of jazz vibraphonist and bandleader Lionel Hampton. The IJC merged with the University of Idaho Library’s Special Collections & Archives department in 2007. It is now the preeminent jazz archive in the Pacific Northwest.

Starting in 1984, the University of Idaho developed a strong relationship with jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton when he performed at the yearly jazz festival. This relationship led to the jazz festival and the school of music being named after Hampton, and him performing at the festival every year. In 1992, Hampton donated his papers to the University of Idaho with the hope that other jazz artists would contribute and it would be one of the significant jazz archives in the world. In 2000, the IJC was formally established and today holds materials from several great jazz artists, including Al Grey, Ray Brown, Pete and Conte Candoli, and Dizzy Gillespie.

You can find more about IJC and what it includes at our International Jazz Collections website.

The IJC consists of over 500 scores and arrangements, 10,000 recordings, 45 cubic feet of letters and papers, 5,000 photographs, and more belonging to notable jazz artists.

You can search for IJC materials by using our many Research Tools. You are welcome to view materials in our Reading Room or contact us regarding digital scans.

Offensive Content

Archival materials are historical documents that are a product of the time and place they were created. In some cases archival collections reflect actions, language, and attitudes that are offensive. Because such content is historical, we do not change it, but we strive to give appropriate context to the material.

To learn more about how we address offensive content check out our Offensive Content Policy.

You can let us know by filling out our Feedback Form. Please also see our Offensive Content Policy for more information about how we handle offensive contact and combat offensive language in our current practices.

Give Us Feedback

We know we sometimes make mistakes and are always seeking to improve. If you catch anything you think may be inaccurate or missing from a description please let us know by filling out our Feedback Form.

Fun Facts!

We have a few ancient Babylonian tablets with hieroglyphic writing on them! We believe they came to us through an archaeology professor who worked here.

Our earliest bound manuscript book is titled Dialogorum libri quattuor from 1492.

We have over 25,000 linear feet of archival materials! That’s equivalent to over 4.7 miles of materials!