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University of Southern Maine
Libraries & Learning

Guide to Special Collections: Manuscript Collections

Learn about accessing and using Special Collections resources for your courses or research projects.

About Manuscript Collections

Five of our seven meta-collections can be considered "manuscript collections," meaning they mostly contain primary sources, unpublished materials, personal papers, and archives.

These five are the Manuscript Collection, Sampson General Collection, African American Collection, Judaica Collection, and LGBTQ+ Collection.

There are two different places to look to find out about manuscript collections in Special Collections.

  1. Special Collections Website. Browse the Special Collections webpages on the USM website to find titles and brief descriptions of collections. Descriptions include both processed and unprocessed collections.
  2. Digital Commons. Search and browse Digital Commons to locate Finding Aids for processed collections and selected digitized objects.

Browse Collection Descriptions on the Special Collections Website


  1. Start at the Research page on the Special Collections webpages.
  2. Select one of the five manuscript collections.
  3. Browse collection descriptions or use CTRL+F to keyword search descriptions.

If a collection is processed, review the linked finding aid to locate the folders you plan to request in the Reading Room.

If a collection is unprocessed, contact to request a collection inventory.


Browse and Search Finding Aids on Digital Commons


Review the complete list of Finding Aids here.


You can keyword search all available finding aids.

  1. Navigate to the complete list of Finding Aids.
  2. Enter a keyword in the search box in the left sidebar (see image).

Screenshot of the Digital Commons search box.

Browse and Search Digitized Item on Digital Commons

Digitized items are organized into meta-collections and collections, just like physical items.


  1. Starting at, select Special Collections.
  2. Select a meta-collection from the list. Example: African American Collection.
  3. Select a collection from the list. Example: Eugene Jackson Papers.
  4. If applicable, select a series from the list. Example: Ruby Family Photo Album.


  1. Navigate to the meta-collection, collection, or series you want to search.
  2. Use the search box in the left sidebar to search by keyword. Searches are automatically limited to the group of items you're currently viewing.

Request Manuscript Collections in the Reading Room

Manuscript collections are stored in a closed stacks, meaning only Special Collections staff have access to them. Staff will retrieve one cart of materials at a time (about 10 boxes fit on a cart).

To request manuscript collections from the closed stacks during your Reading Room visit:

  1. Use the Finding Aid to identify the folders you want to review.
  2. Take a paper call slip from the reference desk.
  3. Write the following information on line 1.
    1. Call Number. Example: GEN-MS0041
    2. Box Number. Example: Box 2
    3. (Optional) Folder Number or Item Number. Example: Folder 24
  4. Write the collection title on line 2. Example: Gorham Academy Archives
  5. Write your name and the date on line 3.
  6. Repeat for each box or folder you want to request.
  7. Return the call slips to the person at the reference desk.

If the Finding Aid includes notations like FC, OS, Oversize, or Restricted next to the folder title, ask the person at the reference desk for guidance.

Paper call slips

Finding Aids

Special Collections is home to over 300 collections of primary sources. How do we help you find items in our collections? A finding aid describes a collection and shows researchers where to look within a collection. See the section on Finding Aids to learn more.

Processed Collections

Processed collections have Finding Aids that help researchers understand the contents of a collection. Processed collections are available for use in the Reading Room any time.

Unprocessed Collections

Unprocessed collections don't have Finding Aids yet, but they are available for use! Upon request, Special Collections staff will provide you with a collection inventory to help you identify whether the collection contains materials related to your research project.

To protect third-party privacy, Special Collections staff will review unprocessed collections before you use them. Please email at least 48 hours before your visit if you plan to research an unprocessed collection.

Call Numbers for Manuscript Collections

Special Collections staff use call numbers to identify and retrieve collections for use by students and other researchers.

Manuscript collections are identified by a call number that includes a collection prefix followed by "MS" and a serial number. The five call number formats are:

  • GEN-MS (Manuscript Collection)
  • SAMGEN-MS (Sampson General Collection)
  • AA-MS (African American Collection)
  • JUD-MS (Judaica Collection)
  • LG-MS (LGBTQ+ Collection)

Example call numbers with collection titles:

  • LG-MS0111 Fortuna, Henderson, and Prizer Collection
  • JUD-MS0004 Rosalyne S. Bernstein Papers
  • SAMGEN-MS0001 Jean Byers Sampson Papers
  • AA-MS0006 Home Is Where I Make It Oral History Collection
  • GEN-MS0068 Lillian E. Brooks Nursing Diary

Special Collections Librarian & Food Studies Liaison

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Jill Piekut Roy
Subjects: Food Studies