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Story+ at the Rubenstein

(Almost) everything you need to know about doing research at the Rubenstein Library

The Basics

Citing sources you find in the archive is a little different from citing secondary sources because there are so many different formats represented and it's not just a matter of saying "see this page in this book." But the idea is the same: you want to provide the information someone else would need to find that same source again. How your citations get formatted exactly will depend on what citation style you use (and even then it can vary!), but the basic elements are similar no matter what style you use:

  • Document Description
  • Document Date
  • Document location
  • Collection name
  • Repository

Creating your citations will be a lot easier if you keep track of your sources as you go along, rather than trying to find them all again at the end when you need to cite them. Your team may want to use something like this spreadsheet where you can collaboratively record information about important sources you find while doing research. 

Elements for Citing Archival Material

Document Description: Identify the item you're looking so a future researcher will know they're looking at the right document. Depending on the document you'll want to include the creator, title, type of document, and/or page numbers.

Useful Examples Less Useful Examples
Annotated planning notes for the Miss America protest Untitled document
Odessa Massey Scrapbook Oral history interview
Hand-held fan featuring African-American woman in US Military uniform Disney advertisement
Asa Spaulding to Val Washington Spaulding Letter

Document Date: When was this document created? Sometimes it's easy and there's a clear date on your document. If it doesn't has a date and you can make an educated guess, say "circa." If you really can't tell, it's okay to use "n.d." to indicate "no date." 

Useful Examples Less Useful Examples
17 August 1953 undated
circa 1915-1919 n.d.
1 March 1862 -19 April 1862  

Document location: Where did you find this? This may be the name or number of the folder, the particular series within a collection, and/or the number of the box or volume you found this document in. Some of our collections are big! Give others a clue where to look. 

Useful Examples Less Useful Examples
Box AS-15 Not putting anything!
Native American Student Coalition, Box 5  
Folder 94  

Collection name: The full name of the collection you're working with. You can find this at the top of a collection guide or in the catalog record. It 's probably on the physical box as well, but double check because sometimes we use abbreviations on boxes or names get changed. 

Useful Examples Less Useful Examples
American Economics Association Records AEA Records
Kate Millet Papers Smith Diary
Bingham Center Women's Zine Collection Duke Oral Histories
Eula Wake Wilson Photograph Collection Zine collection

Repository: A fancy way of saying the library or institution that holds the material you're citing. Depending on the collections you're using here, this will be "Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University" or just "David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University." If you're not sure, check the collection guide or ask us. Some institutions (Yale University, Library of Congress, many others) have more than one affiliated archives, so be specific.


Helpful Examples Less Helpful Examples
Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill SHC
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University Duke Archive
National Archives at College Park, College Park, Maryland Library of Congress


Gratefully adapted from a guide created by Maureen Callahan, Smith College Special Collections