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Frequently Asked Questions
  1. What is the OAC?
  2. What kind of information can I find on the OAC website?
  3. How can I find out what's in the collections?
  4. I can't see the collection I'm interested in online. Why aren't all the items digitized?
  5. I see the item I'm interested in online, but for my research I need to see the physical object. How can I do that?
  6. Why do some collection guides have detailed container lists or inventories and others don't?
  7. Why do some collection guides have advanced search, viewing, sharing/saving and table of contents features, while others don't?
  8. I'm conducting research. Can you help me find more information about a particular topic?
  9. I have a historical item and I'd like to know more about. Can you help?
  10. How do I report a mistake in the OAC website?
  11. What am I permitted to do with the materials I find on the OAC? May I use the OAC materials in a publication or on a web site?
  12. I want to cite an image or text in my paper or presentation. What's the proper form?
  13. I have an item I would like appraised. Can you help me?
  14. I have some historic photographs and documents. Can I put them in the OAC?
  15. I represent a California library, archive, museum, or other institution that wants to join the OAC. What's my first step?

1. What is the Online Archive of California (OAC)?

The OAC is a website that provides free public access to detailed descriptions of primary source collections (artwork, manuscripts, papers, historic photographs, and so on) maintained by more than 200 libraries, special collections, archives, historical societies, and museums throughout California — including collections maintained by the 10 University of California (UC) campuses.

The OAC is a core component of the University of California's California Digital Library (CDL) and is administered by the Digital Special Collections program.

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2. What kind of information can I find on the OAC?

You can discover the contents of the archives, libraries, and museum collections, their physical location, and their contact information. Some items and even entire collections — more than 220,000 images and documents — have been digitized and are available for viewing online.

The OAC does not own, store, or house any of the materials described in the collection guides.

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3. How can I find out what's in a collection?

The OAC provides access to more than 20,000 online collection guides (also called finding aids). They describe the items in collections and how they were gathered or created. They also identify the collection's location, and may provide additional information such as detailed descriptions, histories, and biographies. You can use these to browse, locate resources, or view selected items digitally.

Learn more about using collection guides.

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4. The items I'm interested in aren't available online. Why aren't all the items digitized?

Unfortunately, not all of the contents in all of the collections have been digitized. Each contributing institution decides what items to digitize and make available online based on a number of considerations (including available funding and resources for digitization, copyright restrictions that may prevent the item from being distributed online, and the scholarly significance of the item). For some researchers, just knowing that a collection exists and what the collection contains is of great assistance to their work. This is why we make the collection guides available.

To learn more about a particular item, or to learn how you can see it, or to find out if particular item can be digitized and made available online, please contact the contributing institution directly. A link to contact information is included at the top of every collection guide and on every digital item.

Find contributor information on a collection guide or item.

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5. I see the item I'm interested in online, but for my research I need to see the physical object. How can I find out more about it?

The OAC does not own, store, or house any of the materials described in these collection guides.

To find out how you can access a particular item, contact the contributing institution directly. A link to contact information is included at the top of every collection guide and on every digital item.

Find contributor information on a collection guide or item.

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6. Why do some collection guides have detailed container lists or inventories and others don't?

Collection guides on the OAC vary in their levels of specificity, depending on the kinds of materials described and the practices of the holding institution. A number of factors could contribute to a less detailed guide: the collection may be too small to warrant an extensive inventory, the institution has chosen not to inventory the contents of the collection in detail, the inventory exists but is not online, and many other reasons.

To learn more about any collection on the OAC and whether it contains material of interest, it is best to contact the holding institution.

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7. Why do some collection gudes have advanced search, viewing, sharing/saving, and table of contents features, while others don't?

This is a technical limitation due to file formats. The OAC currently supports two collection guide formats: 1) Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC) records and 2) files encoded in Encoded Archival Description (EAD) . We are able to provide additional options for interacting with the EAD files, but not the MARC records.

The OAC accepts both kinds of formats--and will continue to work to support more--because we believe it is better to provide some information about a collection than nothing at all.

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8. I'm conducting research. Can you help me find more information about a particular topic?

We do not house the collections here at the OAC so, and we do not have any further information about specific collections or items.

Please address all questions and requests about items in a specific collection to the institution that houses the collection. A link to contact information is included at the top of every collection guide.

Learn more about using collection guides.

For general questions, you may consider contacting Internet Public Library (a free online reference service at http://www.ipl.org/), or calling your local library reference desk for suggestions.

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9. I have a historical item I'd like to know more about. Can you help?

Unfortunately, the OAC does not have the resources to offer reference desk services. For general questions, we suggest contacting Internet Public Library (a free online reference service at http://www.ipl.org/) or contact your local library reference desk for suggestions.

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10. How do I report a mistake in the OAC?

Report mistakes contained in a collection guide concerning a collection or item directly to the contributing institution that houses that item.

For other errors you see on the OAC website, please use the "Contact us" form. You'll find a link to this form on every page.

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11. What am I permitted to do with the materials I find on the OAC? May I use the OAC materials in a publication or on a web site?

The materials in the OAC are intended to be used for research, teaching, and private study. All items may be protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.). Usage of some items may also be subject to additional restrictions imposed by the copyright owner and/or the institution.

See the OAC Copyright Statement & Conditions of Use for details.

The OAC does not own or house any of the materials described in the collection guides.

Please contact the institution that houses the collection for information about the copyright status of a particular digital image or text, or for permission to publish or obtain a reproduction of a particular collection item. A link to contact information is included at the top of every collection guide.

Learn more about using collection guides.

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12. I want to cite an image or text in my paper or presentation. What’s the proper form?

When provided, you should always cite materials according to the contributing institution's preferred form of citation. In the collection guide, under Full Overview, you will find a section called "Preferred Citation."

In addition, the Learning Page of American Memory provides guidelines, examples, and links to other resources about citing electronic sources.

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13. I have an item I would like appraised. Can you help me?

The OAC does not offer appraisal services. Such services are provided by specialized businesses such as auction houses and antiquarian booksellers. You may wish to consult your local library for specialized collecting guides and catalogs. You can find contact information for specialists to authenticate or appraise your item through professional organizations such as the American Society of Appraisers and the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America.

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14. I have some historic photographs and documents. Can I put them in the OAC?

At this time, we can only accept items from institutions. You may consider contacting one of the OAC's current contributing institutions, or your local historical society or library.

See the Society of American Archivists' free brochure series for useful tips on donating materials to an archive.

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15. I represent a California library, archive, museum, or other institution that wants to join the OAC. What’s my first step?

Please see How to Join the OAC as a Contributing Member for more information.

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