Staff at the Dr. JoAnn Rayfield Archives and Milner Library’s Special Collections department are excited to announce the launch their new finding aids database. This new database allows researchers to search both Archives and Special Collections repositories at once from anywhere with an internet connection.

A finding aid is a way to navigate through a collection and see its contents. Each finding aid provides a homepage for the collection with an overview of its contents, dates covered, and the collection’s creator. Finding aids also let researchers know where an item or collection is located so staff can retrieve the specific item(s) for viewing. Milner Library’s four repositories represented in the database are University Archives, the Local History Collection, the Digital Repository, and Special Collections and Rare Books.  

Improving access and findability

The new, combined database brings many benefits to Milner Library and researchers. “I think the finding aids will improve visibility and access to the treasures held in Special Collections,” said Head of Special Collections Maureen Brunsdale. “Working with items in one of the richest repositories for circus materials, for example, means nothing if people can’t figure out what is here. That’s what finding aids do: help connect people to the information they are looking for. So, I’m totally excited that these are available!” 

This new database will make it easier for users to see what all is available to them and to do detailed searches. “Our users will have a far better search experience using our new finding aids database,” said University Archivist April Anderson-Zorn. “They’ll be able to search across all of our repositories, something that wasn’t possible before the switch. Users will be able to narrow down to a folder or item or do broad searches—it’s all in their control. Plus, the new database looks pretty snazzy!” 

How to use finding aids

Anyone can use a finding aid—students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members, or anyone interested in the history of the University or the contents of Special Collections. To navigate to the finding aids database, visit the Finding Aids page on Milner Library’s website. For a more detailed walk through on how to use finding aids, watch this video.

Once a user identifies material that they would like to see, they can let Archives or Special Collections staff know via email or phone what it is they are looking for and staff will gladly help set up an appointment to view the materials. At the bottom of each collection, under repository details, users can see who should be contacted about the relevant material – Archives or Special Collections.  

If you have general questions about Illinois State University Archives or Special Collections, or want to set up an appointment to view material, staff can be reached via the information below.

Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives


Phone: (309) 438-3546 

Special Collections 


Phone: (309) 438-2871