Manuscripts are a type of primary source material. As such, they provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence of events and experiences—both public and personal—or, simply of a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. While primary sources may either be published or unpublished, manuscripts are unpublished primary sources. A manuscript collection may be a single document or a body of documents created by, belonging or pertaining to, an individual person or a family. It may include diaries, journals, letters, correspondence, family papers, scrapbooks, business or other institutional records, legal documents, or architectural drawings. Not restricted to text written or printed on paper, manuscript materials may also include oral histories and photographs. Or, they may be documents that were born-digital.
This guide focuses on manuscripts owned by the Virginia Tech Libraries. For a more general guide to manuscripts available elsewhere, see the Find Primary Sources guide.
Special Collections, located on the first floor of Newman Library, houses more than 1400 collections of manuscript material, the greatest concentration of which date from the 19th and 20th centuries. Manuscript collections at Virginia Tech reflect several chosen areas of focus. They include: the American Civil War, local and regional history, science and technology, women in architecture, culinary history, and university faculty and alumni. Collections are available (with occasional restrictions) to all researchers as Special Collections seeks to maintain its dual goal of providing access and preserving these materials. Due to their unique and sometimes fragile condition, these materials neither circulate beyond Special Collections nor are available through Interlibrary loan. Photocopies and/or digital copies of materials may be requested directly through Special Collections.
A Guide to Manuscript Collections offers a tool for browsing and searching short descriptions of collections. Finding aids, that is, documents that offer more complete descriptions of manuscript collections—often including detailed descriptions of their contents—may be searched via the Virginia Heritage Project. This collaborative project involving some 23 Virginia institutions—including Virginia Tech—posts the finding aids of all participating repositories in a fully searchable database.
All manuscript materials are also listed in Addison, though some may only appear in the catalog in an abbreviated form, that is, with the catalog number and the name of the collection. That catalog number or designation will begin with the prefix, MS, for example, MS2009-001. This designation indicates the first manuscript collection processed in 2009. Note that this date has no necessary connection to the time period represented by the materials themselves. Other collections will have a comprehensive catalog display in Addison, complete with subject headings, descriptions, and a link to a full finding aid. Note also that any search in Addison may be narrowed by changing the default domain of “All University Libraries to Special Collections, which may speed and improve the results of a search.
Visit Special Collections and ask for our assistance. We are open Monday through Friday from 8AM to 5PM and by appointment. We may also be reached via email or by phone at 540-231-6308.