Primary Source Literacy at USC Libraries & Beyond

Networks of Finding Aids and Digital Collections

When searching the finding aids published on Archives at USC or the digital collections made available at the USC Digital Library, the majority of search results will reflect primary source materials held by the USC Libraries. However, USC is only one of many institutions that provides access to its archival finding aids and digitized collections. Find out where to search these types of resources across many institutions in the lists below.

Aggregators of Archival Description

The first list--for archival description--provides links to two aggregators of archival finding aids and collection guides. The archival description that these two resources aggregate is similar to the finding aids that USC publishes on Archives at USC. The OAC contains more than 20,000 archival finding aids from over 200 contributing institutions throughout California, including libraries, special collections (like USC's), archives, historical societies, and museums. See also: What is a Finding Aid? for usability comparisons between the OAC's interface and the ArchivesSpace-based interface at Archives at USC.

ArchiveGrid's scope goes beyond California (and the OAC), containing finding aids contributed by institutions all over the United States. The data collected by ArchiveGrid overlaps with the data that users search at WorldCat, which is the world's largest network of library content and services. However, WorldCat provides search results for a variety of different materials (e.g., circulating books and DVDs available at public libraries), whereas ArchiveGrid only searches archival description.

Digital Collections Networks

The second list focuses on digital collections and provides links to networks of digitized primary source materials comparable to the USC Digital Library. Similar to the Online Archive of California, Calisphere limits its collections to resources held by cultural heritage organizations based in California. However, a search in Calisphere will go very far, crawling over one million digitized primary source and/or archival items, including photographs, documents, letters, artwork, diaries, oral histories, films, advertisements, musical recordings, and more.

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), like ArchiveGrid, operates on a national scale -- offering access to digital resources contributed by libraries and other cultural heritage organizations across the United States. The DPLA also serves other functions unrelated to searching for primary source materials, such as providing a platform for libraries to circulate ebooks to their patrons.


SNAC (Social Networks and Archival Context) is an international resource that aggregates biographical and historical information about persons, families, and organizations that are documented in primary source materials. Instead of grouping archival descriptions and digital collections by the institutions that hold them, SNAC aggregates links to both finding aids and digitized material by the subjects of these primary sources: the persons who originally created the historical records (or are documented by them).

Since USC contributes to all of the networks listed on this page, you can find archival description and digitized collections for USC Libraries holdings on all of these sites. All of the sites linked from this page are also free to use.
Header image: "A New Map of the World on the Globular Projection" (1843). Sea of Korea Map Collection, no. 3259. USC Libraries East Asian Library.

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