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John J. Burns Library


Archives & Manuscripts

Boston College's special collections and rare books, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance.

What is a finding aid?

Magnifying glass

The library catalog will help you find archival collections of interest; however, archival collections are complex resources comprised of unique things created and collected uniquely. One listing is not enough to help you navigate to the relevant box or folder.

Finding aids help you get there! A finding aid describes the materials in context and includes information about provenance, a biographical or historical note about who created or collected the material, a description of the scope (size, subjects, media), statements about organization and arrangement, and an inventory of the material itself.

Finding aids are often linked to the catalog. Unfortunately, some finding aids are available only in the Burns Library. Contact us at, if you need help!

Photo by Evan Long (

What are Archives & Manuscripts at BC?

Archives & Manuscripts is the department at the Burns Library that manages primary source material.

Archives and manuscripts are words that describe the kinds of primary sources we manage.

Archives can be a general term pertaining to all materials with enduring value created by individuals (papers) or organizations (records) during the course of everyday affairs OR the repository that holds that kind of material (the Burns Library). However, at Boston College, we primarily use the term archives to mean the University Archives, which are the office records of Boston College, but it also applies to any collection of organizational records.

While the term manuscripts can be limited to hand-written documents, at Boston College, we generally use it more broadly and apply it to all collections of personal papers.

University Archives (records of Boston College)

The Burns Library is the official repository for the Boston College University Archives, that is, records of the university that have enduring historical, administrative, or community significance.  For more detailed information about University Archives at Boston College, please consult this Library Guide.

The Archives staff:

  • works with BC schools, departments, and offices to determine which of the records they create in the course of their activities should be preserved for future use
  • works with students, alumni, faculty, and friends of the University to collect papers, graphic materials, recordings, and artifacts that document life at Boston College and the University's history
  • promotes and supports activities that contribute to understanding of and research about Boston College history

Material in the University Archives is arranged in a series of "Record Groups" and "Subgroups" reflecting the Boston College's reporting structure. A list of the Record Groups can be found here.

Some -- but not all -- materials in the University Archives are represented in the catalog. To browse the cataloged materials in the Catalog, do a search for "BC Archive" and refine the results by clicking on Archives & Manuscripts under Material Type.

If you're not sure about what we have, please ask! Just contact the Burns Library reference desk or archives staff.

Manuscripts (personal papers)

The Burns Library holds collections of personal papers in a number of collecting areas. Personal papers often include correspondence, photographs, diaries, documents, drafts of literary works, notes, recordings, and/or other material created and collected during the course of a person's life. These materials become significant for research purposes due to the time, place, or circumstance they document; the person whose life they illuminate; the relationships and points of view they reveal, etc.

Conducting research with personal papers is rewarding -- it is often "original research" that no one else has done exactly the same way before! It is time-consuming, though. Please plan time for the occasional false start, dead end, or illegible document.

Archives Stacks

Boxes in the stacks

The Archives & Manuscripts stacks at the Burns Library are closed, like all the stacks at the Burns Library, but here is a glimpse. The Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. Congressional Papers are primarily stored in one place in uniformly-sized gray boxes.

Archives (organizational records)

The Burns Library is the repository for some organizational records. Organizational records often include memos, correspondence, agreements, meeting minutes, newsletters and other publications, annual reports, photographs, recordings, and/or ledgers. These materials sometimes serve an ongoing administrative need, but also can be used for historical research.

An example of records at the Burns Library is The Eire Society of Boston records. The Eire Society of Boston was founded in 1937 primarily for the purpose of promoting interest in Irish culture and civilization. Their records include meeting minutes, correspondence, programs, publications, and financial records. Because this organization is still extant, the collection is growing.

Please note: sometimes portions of organizational records are available only to members of that organization.

Limiting your search

In the Catalog Advanced Search consider these strategies in addition to your search terms: 

Limit Your Search

  • by Search Scope "Burns Library"
  • by Material Type "Archives & Manuscripts"

Use Local Collection Names (Change "Anywhere in record" to "Local collection")

Use Subject Keywords for Form/Genre (Change "Anywhere in record" to "Subject")

  • "Sources"
  • "Letters"
  • "Correspondence"
  • "Manuscripts"
  • "Photographs"

Try Keywords in Title (Change "Anywhere in record" to "Title")

  • "Papers"
  • "Collection"
  • "Records"