Skip to main content

Special Collections & Archives Guide

Learn how to access, use and experiment with primary resources in the learning laboratory!


Special Collections and University Archives preserve, share, and promote the Libraries' unique and most rare holdings for use by ODU's academic community, visiting scholars, and the general public. We support the University's academic program and its instructional and research interests, document the cultural heritage of the Coastal Virginia region, and maintain the historical record of ODU.

Special Collections and University Archives is for everybody! You do not need an invitation to visit us, nor do you need to make an appointment.  Our collections cover a wide range of topics that enrich scholarly opportunities, and we welcome students, faculty, community members, and researchers from all over the world to visit and use our collections and services.

​Contact Special Collections and University Archives, we are here to help you find exactly what you need: or (757) 683-5350.

About Special Collections

What do we do?

Special Collections and University Archives staff help engage students, faculty, staff, and the general public with our collections in a number of ways:

  • Instruction: We host several class sessions per year, many with embedded course requirements and spread across multiple disciplines and departments. We specialize in active-learning with primary sources, both in-person and in the online learning environment.
  • Research Consultations and Services: Reference services are a core part of Special Collections work. Our staff is readily available to provide one-to-one consultation on research projects at any stage of the research process. 
  • Community Engagement: Our staff partner with other Libraries' staff, students, faculty, and members of the community on events, exhibitions, digitization initiatives, publications, digital humanities projects, etc.

What do we collect?

  • Special Collections: Our special collections cover a wide variety or topics. Some are oral histories by ground-breaking women in the Civil Rights Movement. Other materials include correspondence, maps, and reports from military and diplomatic leaders. Some collections encompass visual materials, such as posters, photographs, or artifacts that serve as evidence of material culture at a turning point in history. 
  • University Archives: These collections serve as the memory of ODU, and include thousands of photographs of university life, oral histories, faculty and administrative papers, posters, newspapers, oral histories, film, scrapbooks, etc.
  • Rare book and artifacts: Examples include signed artist books, local historical volumes, rare poetry and fiction books, journals and newspapers, ancient artifacts, recording equipment, etc. 

Our locations on campus

  • Special Collections & University Archives in Perry Library Located on the 3rd floor of Perry Library, our main special collections location contains records of enduring value to the University, state, and nation. This location is open to the public Monday-Friday from 9:00-4:30. Changes in hours can be found on the libraries' calendar. More information can be found at:
  • F. Ludwig Diehn Composers Room Music Special Collections
    • Located alongside the Music Library in the Diehn Center for the Performing Arts, this collections specializes in historical and 
    • contemporary 
    • music collections by composers, conductors, musicians, etc. Access to this location is by appointment only. For further details, including requesting an appointment: 

Special collections contain both primary and secondary resource materials that have characteristics which set them apart from other types of collections in libraries. These qualities may include:

  • Rarity: books, manuscripts and other materials which are old, scarce or unique.
  • Format: photographs, slides, films, audio and video recordings, maps, artworks, artifacts and other objects that require special handling.
  • Comprehensiveness: accumulations of materials that are individually not unique, but collectively comprise an important resource because of their relevance to a particular topic or individual.

Because of these qualities, special collections are difficult or impossible to replace, and require a higher level of security and special preservation environments to insure their survival.  Therefore, special collection materials are located in closed stacks areas, where they are retrieved by staff for researchers in our reading room.  

Finding Things in Our Collections

These search tools will help get you started, whether you are new to archival research or have lots of experience:

  • Database of Collections
    • Provides detailed lists and descriptions of our collections. You can browse and/or keyword search all of these collection guides, also known as "Finding Aids," online before you visit to see what you are interested in researching.
  • Monarch OneSearch
    • Search our Libraries' main catalog to find rare books, digital collections, finding aids and more!
  • Digital Collections
    • While only a fraction of our collections have been digitized, we have made some of our most popular collections freely available online. 
  • ODU Digital Commons
    • Search this digital repository for faculty and student publications, including yearbooks, theses, and dissertations
To learn more about archival research and how our collections can help you with your projects, see our guide Using Archives in Your Research