The Oviatt Library at CSUN has been amassing unique, primary source collections for over 40 years, especially for undergraduate use. These materials are extraordinarily rich for studying a host of national and local events, trends, and concepts. Challenges in a student's ability to discover archival materials, access them if they do figure out where they are, and understand them if they come in to the Special Collections and Archives Reading Room have resulted in these resources being under utilized by these library users.
While many libraries, including the Oviatt, have taken the traditional access tool for archival materials, the finding aid, and made it searchable online, many undergraduate students do not understand enough about the nature of archival collections to use finding aid databases with much success. Likewise, many libraries, including our own, have digitization programs in which we make individual items from archival collections available for use online. These item-level searchable environments often destroy the important contextual relationships between individual documents, so even though its much easier to find materials, they often mean a lot less than they did in print, and consequently are much less usable.
The biggest hurdle for students using these materials is learning to navigate the systems we have set up that are supposed to help them find what they need. When students come in for instruction sessions in Special Collections and Archives, where the Special Collections and Archives Librarian and course instructor have identified materials in the collections for a particular assignment, it immediately becomes clear that undergraduates are more than capable of understanding, synthesizing, and analyzing the content of these materials.