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Cite Materials

Correctly citing sources can be challenging. It isn’t an exact science, but a practice intended to promote ethical, replicable use of sources. This guide is intended to assist you in citing materials you’ve used at Kenneth Spencer Research Library and other similar special collections libraries and archives. It has two focuses.

  1. Citing sources within academic contexts such as courses at the University of Kansas. The guide explores three common citation styles used in academic settings: MLA, APA, and Chicago.
  2. Citing archival sources. The New York Public Library describes archives as "records created by people and organizations as they lived and worked." Collections can range in size from a single document to hundreds of boxes. They generally contain unpublished materials such as letters, diaries, drafts of literary works, financial records, meeting minutes, reports, scrapbooks, memorabilia, photographs, and audiovisual materials. The unpublished materials in archival collections are usually one-of-a-kind items that exist only in the collection where a researcher finds them.

Think of archives as a series of nesting dolls. The item is the smallest doll and it exists within increasingly large levels: the item, then a part of the collection (box and/or folder and/or section, if/as appropriate), then the collection as a whole, and then the repository where the collection is housed. In order to correctly cite archival materials, you must describe the item itself as well as each of these levels. This is true no matter which citation style you are using.

In addition to consulting this guide, you should always check with your instructor for their specific guidelines for citing archival material. You can also get extra help from a Spencer librarian by visiting the Reading Room or emailing ksrlref@ku.edu.

For help with taking notes while working with archival materials – including keeping track of the information that will likely be needed in your citations – see the Archival Research Log (PDF).

A PDF version of this page is also available.

Why Does Citing Sources Matter?

The practice of documenting source use is important across a wide range of contexts and disciplines. Whether you are writing a research paper for class, drafting a scholarly article for publication, or developing a blog post for your personal website, giving credit to the authors, texts, and sources that inform your work shows that you are an ethical user of information and makes you more credible to your intended audiences.

Source citations also allow future readers and researchers to track and replicate the research you conducted. This is particularly important when using sources found in a special collections library or archive because these items are more likely to be rare and otherwise difficult for other researchers to locate if they are not fully cited. Failure to give credit to others for their ideas is considered plagiarism, and it has the opposite effect on credibility. Plagiarism also results in unfavorable legal, academic, or other consequences. All the more reason to ensure you properly document the sources you use!

Locating Source Information for Archival Materials

Correctly citing archival collections can be particularly tricky because they frequently contain a wide variety of source types. Some of the information you need about an archival item or collection may require some work to locate; finding it may not be as simple as working with non-archival sources. In some cases, it may be that you simply don’t have all the pieces of information that a particular citation style asks you to include.

You can find information about the archival sources you’re working with in a variety of places, including the following:

  • The document or item itself. Look for information like the date a document was written, the author, the recipient (if appropriate), and the location where a document was written. Be sure to always turn photographs over to see if they list subject names, dates, or other information on the back.
  • The catalog record describing the collection. Each record in the KU Libraries online catalog contains information about an item. The information is presented in standardized fields that describe aspects of the item, including the title, author, publisher, subjects covered, number of pages, and location at the library.
  • The finding aid describing the collection. A finding aid provides more detailed information about an archival collection than a catalog record. A finding aid helps researchers in navigating an archival collection and finding information about subjects, people, places, and events documented within it. In general, each one describes the creation, content, context, and organization of materials in a specific archival collection. Not all Spencer finding aids are online; some exist only as paper inventories in the Reading Room. Ask a Spencer librarian for assistance accessing these finding aids. For more information about finding aids, see the “Finding Aids 101” post on the Spencer blog.
  • Labels or information on folders and boxes. In particular, look for call numbers and box and folder numbers. This information should also be in the finding aid.

In some cases, you may be able to use available information to extrapolate the unrecorded details of archival materials. For example, you may encounter an undated document or photograph. Examine the item closely, specifically things like its physical characteristics (e.g. handwritten versus typed or type of photograph); the topics, popular culture, or events referenced or depicted; and other contextual clues (e.g. clothes and cars shown in the photograph). These clues may enable you to approximate when the item was created, even if your guess is rather broad (e.g. circa 1870-1900, circa 1941-1945, after 1950).

Citing Print Sources

Spencer Research Library houses thousands of print sources – including books, government documents, periodicals, and maps – in addition to archival collections. Because it is generally more straightforward to cite print sources, this topic is beyond the scope of this guide. You can find information about citing these types of sources in the following places:

Keep in mind that many print sources at Spencer Research Library are – like archival collections – more likely to be rare and otherwise difficult for other researchers to locate if they are not fully cited. For that reason, it may be beneficial to add identifying information when citing print sources you accessed at Spencer. This would include the item’s call number and the name and location of the repository, e.g. “Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.”

MLA (Citation Style of the Modern Language Association)

Drawn from the MLA Handbook, 8th edition. For additional guidance with citing archival material using MLA style, see https://style.mla.org/citing-materials-physical-archives.

In MLA style, sources are documented using two components:

  • A parenthetical citation of the source in the body of the text you are producing
    AND
  • A Works Cited page at the end of your text listing all the sources you employed in full detail

The current (8th) edition of the MLA Handbook does not offer specific guidance for citing archival material. However, many of the general guidelines it provides for in-text citations and Works Cited entries can be applied to citing archival material.

In-Text Citations

For in-text citations, MLA style uses the format of the author of the source’s last name and the specific page number or page range you are referencing, all of which is placed in parentheses. For example: (Smith 24). There is no comma following the author name, and the punctuation for your sentence should appear following the closing parenthesis.

Alternatively, the author name can appear within the body of your text, but the page number should still appear in parentheses. For example: Smith writes that citing archival material properly is very important (24).

If there is no author name, use the next available element listed in the “Core Elements” for the source (see below). If there are no explicitly labeled page numbers (or paragraph or section numbers), omit them from the parentheses.

The in-text citation is meant to direct your reader to your Works Cited page and allow for a relatively seamless reading experience.

Works Cited Page

MLA style employs nine “Core Elements” that are generally required for each entry on the Works Cited page. The elements are listed below, as well as the slight adjustments for citing archival material in particular. Take special note of the punctuation following each one. Omit any elements that are not applicable to the specific source you are citing.

Core Element Notes and Slight Modifications Likely Needed for Archival Materials
Author. The format should be the author's last name, a comma, and the author's first name.
Title of the source. If citing a letter, include the recipient as "Letter to..."
[Optional Source Title Element.] If citing a letter, include the date here.
Title of the container of the source, If the item is part of a collection, list the collection name here.
Other contributors,  
Version, Ex: vol. 5
Number, Ex: no. 2
Publisher,  
Publication date, If the date is uncertain, include a question mark after the date listing.
Location. This will likely be the name of the archive or library that houses the item, as well as the item's call number. This must also include the box and folder number for the item, if it has one. If you are citing a specific page or page range, include it here.
[Optional Location Element.] Here you have the option to indicate the medium or format of the source, such as "manuscript" if the item is handwritten.

 

Examples of Citations in MLA Style

The following are example citations for various sources and source types located in Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s holdings. Remember that citing sources isn’t an exact science. You may need to tweak the citations shown here depending on factors such as the context of your project or instructions from your instructor. Be sure to use these examples in conjunction with the MLA Handbook.

Letter

In-text citation: (Ogden).

  • Hint: Page numbers are omitted, as this letter’s pages are not explicitly numbered.

Works Cited entry: Ogden, Sarah J. Letter to Sarah A. Kimball. 31 Jan. 1859. Pillsbury Family Papers, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, RH MS 802, box 1, folder 5.

Diary

In-text citation: (North).

  • Hint: Page numbers are omitted, as this diary’s pages are not explicitly numbered.

Works Cited entry: North, Lillian. Diary of Lillian North. 1 Jan. 1915 – 14 May 1917, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, MS B173.

Photograph (Physical Item)

In-text citation: (D’Ambra).

  • Hint: Page numbers are omitted.

Works Cited entry: D’Ambra, Duke. Photograph of James Naismith and Forrest Clare “Phog” Allen. Athletic Department: Coaches and Staff photographs, 1932, University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, RG 66/22 photographs, folder “Naismith w/ Phog Allen.”

Photograph (Digital Item)

In-text citation: (D’Ambra).

  • Hint: Page numbers are omitted.

Works Cited entry: D’Ambra, Duke. “Dr. James Naismith (left) and Dr. Forrest “Phog” Allen (right).” KU Libraries Digital Collections, University Archives Photographs, 1932, digital.lib.ku.edu/ku-uaphotos/3335.

Item in a University Archives Record Group

In-text citation: (Women’s Student Government Association, Article 10).

  • Hint: The item has a group as author. The item has no page numbers, but its paragraphs are explicitly labeled with article numbers.

Works Cited entry: [Women’s Student Government Association?]. [circa 1909]. “Constitution and By-Laws of the Women’s Student Government Association.” Women’s Student Government Association Records, University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, RG 67/43, box 1 records 1909-1947, folder 1909.

  • Hint: This entry is shown with square brackets and a question mark on the author since the author is not explicitly listed on the work. Similarly the square brackets and “circa” is used to indicate the item doesn’t have an explicitly listed date, though there is a great deal of evidence to suggest both this date and author.
  • Hint: Some records in University Archives have subsections that are important to note in a citation. For example, the correspondence of each Chancellor is frequently subdivided into sections such as “General,” “State,” and “Departmental.” These sections also frequently have multiple boxes with the same number that are differentiated by the date range of the records included, e.g. Box 1 for the year 1925 and Box 1 for the year 1930. When citing these records, it’s important to be as specific as possible, including all subsection names, box numbers, box date ranges, and folder names/numbers.

APA (Citation Style of the American Psychological Association)

Drawn from the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edition. For additional guidance with citing archival material using APA style, see https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/references/archival.

APA style documents sources in two primary ways:

  • An in-text reference in the body of the text you are writing
    AND
  • A Reference List at the end of your text listing all sources cited

In-Text References

For in-text references, APA utilizes an author’s last name and date format, and both pieces of information are separated by a comma. This information is placed in parentheses at the end of your sentence, with your sentence punctuation placed outside the closing parenthesis. For example: (Smith, 2002). If you choose to place the author’s last name in your body text, place just the year in the parentheses. When there is no identified author for your source, use the next component of your reference list entry (see below). In most cases, this is the title of the source.

If you wish to cite a specific page number of a source—such as when you are directly quoting from the source—include the page number following the date within the parentheses, separated by a comma. Abbreviate “page” as “p.”

If a source contains no date, use the abbreviation “n.d.” (meaning “no date”).

Reference List

An APA style Reference List allows readers of your text to easily navigate from the in-text reference you provided in parentheses to a fuller, more detailed listing of the source’s information.

The components of an APA style Reference List generally include the following pieces of information. Note the use of punctuation, as well as the slight adjustments for citing archival material in particular. The APA style manual stresses that “this general format may be modified for collections requiring more or less specific information […]” (p. 212, section 7/10).

Components Notes and Slight Modifications Likely Needed for Archival Materials
Author and/or editors. The format should generally be the author's last name, a comma, and their first initials.
(Publication date). Place the date in parentheses. Use the format "Year, Month Day." With unpublished archival material, give the year the source was produced.
Title of the source. Capitalize the first word of the title and subtitle, as well as any proper nouns.
[Description of the source]. Place this description in brackets. This is used for information that does not appear on the item but that helps to explain what the item is.
Title of the larger source that contains this source For archival material, this will likely be the name of the collection.
(Call number, Box number, Folder number).  
Name of the library or archive that houses the item,  
Location of the library or archive that houses the item. In the examples provided below, we use "Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas." In addition, the city, state, and country of the library or archive could be provided.

 

Examples of Citations in APA Style

The following are example citations for various sources and source types located in Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s holdings. Remember that citing sources isn’t an exact science. You may need to tweak the citations shown here depending on factors such as the context of your project or instructions from your instructor. Be sure to use these examples in conjunction with the APA Style Guide.

Letter

In-text reference: (Ogren, 1859).

Reference list: Ogren, S. J. (1859, January 31). [Letter to Sarah A. Kimball]. Pillsbury Family Papers (RH MS 802, Box 1, Folder 5). Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

Diary

In-text reference: (North, 1915-1917).

  • Hint: Page numbers are omitted, as this diary’s pages are not explicitly numbered.

Reference list: North, L. (1915, January 1 – 1917, May 14). [Diary of Lillian North]. (MS B173). Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

Photograph (Physical Item)

In-text reference: (D’Ambra, 1932).

Reference list: D’Ambra, D. (1932). [Photograph of James Naismith and Forrest Clare “Phog” Allen]. Athletic Department: Coaches and Staff photographs (RG 66/22 Photographs, Folder “Naismith w/ Phog Allen”). University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

Photograph (Digital Item)

In-text reference: (D’Ambra, 1932).

Reference list: D’Ambra, D. (1932). Dr. James Naismith (left) and Dr. Forrest “Phog” Allen (right) [Photograph]. KU Libraries Digital Collections. https://digital.lib.ku.edu/ku-uaphotos/3335

Item in a University Archives Record Group

In-text reference: (Women’s Student Government Association, 1909).

Reference list: Women’s Student Government Association (presumed). (ca. 1909). Constitution and by-laws of the Women’s Student Government Association [pamphlet]. Women’s Student Government Association Records (RG 67/43, Box 1 Records 1909-1947, Folder 1909). University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

  • Hint: This citation involves material which doesn’t explicitly state the author or the date, but there is strong evidence (thus the “presumed” and ca.) that it was a group as author and a 1909 date due to in-text references and surrounding material. If there had been nothing indicating an author, the title would have taken its place in the citation. If there had been nothing indicating a date, “n.d.” would have been used.
  • Hint: Some records in University Archives have subsections that are important to note in a citation. For example, the correspondence of each Chancellor is frequently subdivided into sections such as “General,” “State,” and “Departmental.” These sections also frequently have multiple boxes with the same number that are differentiated by the date range of the records included, e.g. Box 1 for the year 1925 and Box 1 for the year 1930. When citing these records, it’s important to be as specific as possible, including all subsection names, box numbers, box date ranges, and folder names/numbers.

Chicago (Citation Style Published by the University of Chicago Press)

Drawn from the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition. This volume is licensed by KU Libraries and can be accessed via the Libraries’ website. See Chapter 14, Sections 221-231 for more information about citing archival materials (called “Manuscript Collections”).

Chicago style documents sources in one of two major ways. Either:

  • A combination of footnotes and/or endnotes AND a Bibliography following the end of your text listing the sources you utilized in full detail (i.e. Notes and Bibliography system)
    OR
  • A combination of author-date style parenthetical citations in the body of your text and a Reference List following the end of your text listing the sources you utilized in full detail

The Notes and Bibliography system is the most commonly-utilized in disciplines that employ archival research methods. As such, this handout covers only that system.

The Notes & Bibliography System: Notes

Notes in Chicago style are intended to allow the writer to both cite sources and/or to provide commentary on them. These notes can take the form of footnotes (which appear in the footer of the page) or endnotes (which appear at the end of the text you are composing). Notes are typically numbered and correspond to the same superscripted number within the body of the text you are composing.

Generally, footnotes or endnotes include the following components, all of which are separated by commas.

Rather than duplicate all this information every time the same source is cited, provide a shortened form of the note for the next use. This shortened form can include the author’s last name, a shortened form of the title of the source, and the specific page being referenced.

Components Notes and Slight Modifications Likely Needed for Archival Materials
Author name, Listed in natural order, First Name Last Name. If there is no author, as may be the case with archival material, skip to the title of the source. If citing a letter, begin with the name of the writer and then "to" the name of the recipient.
Title of the source,  
(Facts of publication), Listed in parentheses. For published print sources, this usually includes the City: the Publisher, the publication year. The facts of publication may be omitted for some archival material.
Page numbers and other locators.

For archival materials, generally include the following here, separated by commas:

  • The date in the format Day Month Year,
  • The medium of the source if it is important to know and not already clear, such as a photograph,
  • The box and folder number,
  • The call number,
  • The collection title,
  • The name of the library or archive containing the item,
  • The location of the library or archive, unless the repository is well-known.

The Notes & Bibliography System: Bibliography

The major distinctions between Chicago-style notes and bibliography entries for archival material are that

“in a note, the main elements of a manuscript citation is usually a specific item (a letter, a memorandum, or whatever) and is thus cited first. In a bibliography, the main element is usually either the collection in which the specific item may be found, the author(s) of the items in the collection, or the depository for the collection. (Entries beginning with the name of the collection or the last name of the author—which sometimes overlap—tend to be easiest to locate in a bibliography). Specific items are not included in a bibliography unless only one item from a collection is cited” (14.222).

Entries in the Bibliography are alphabetized, rather than numerically listed in the order of their appearance as they are in the Notes.

The Bibliography still shares many of the same information of the Notes. The major differences are in the ordering of information and its formatting. Minor formatting differences include:

  • Rather than commas, the components are separated by periods.
  • The facts of publication do not appear in parentheses.
  • The author’s name (or the first author, if there are multiple) is changed to a Last Name, First Name order.

Examples of Citations in Chicago Style

The following are example citations for various sources and source types located in Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s holdings. Remember that citing sources isn’t an exact science. You may need to tweak the citations shown here depending on factors such as the context of your project or instructions from your instructor. Be sure to use these examples in conjunction with the Chicago Manual of Style.

Letter

First note: Sarah J. Ogden to Sarah A. Kimball, 31 January 1859, Box 1, Folder 5, RH MS 802, Pillsbury Family Papers, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

Subsequent notes: Sarah J. Ogden to Sarah A. Kimball, 31 January 1859, Pillsbury Family Papers.

  • Hint: Follow the same format – plus box and/or folder numbers – if citing a different document from the same collection.

Bibliography entry: Pillsbury Family. Papers. RH MS 802. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

Diary

First note: Lillian North, 24 December 1916, diary, MS B173, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

  • Hint: The date refers to a specific entry, not the date range of the diary as a whole. Page numbers are omitted, as this diary’s pages are not explicitly numbered.

Subsequent notes: Lillian North diary, 24 December 1916.

  • Hint: Follow the same format if citing a different date from the same diary.

Bibliography entry: North, Lillian. Diary. MS B173. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

Photograph (Physical Item)

First note: Duke D’Ambra, “Dr. James Naismith (left) and Dr. Forrest "Phog" Allen (right),” 1932, photograph, folder “Naismith w/ Phog Allen,” RG 66/22, Athletic Department: Coaches and Staff Photographs, University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

Subsequent notes: Duke D’Ambra, “Dr. James Naismith (left) and Dr. Forrest "Phog" Allen (right),” 1932, Athletic Department: Coaches and Staff Photographs.

  • Hint: Follow the same format – plus box and/or folder numbers – if citing a different photograph from the same collection.

Bibliography entry: Athletic Department: Coaches and Staff. Photographs. RG 66/22. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

Photograph (Digital Item)

First note: Duke D’Ambra, “Dr. James Naismith (left) and Dr. Forrest "Phog" Allen (right),” 1932, photograph, KU Libraries Digital Collections, University Archives Photographs, accessed 16 January 2020, https://digital.lib.ku.edu/ku-uaphotos/3335.

Subsequent notes: “Phog Allen at his desk with three others,” 1950, photograph, KU Libraries Digital Collections, University Archives Photographs, accessed 16 January 2020, https://digital.lib.ku.edu/ku-uaphotos/4625.

  • Hint: No photographer is listed for this image. This is a different item than the one above. Since it will not be included in the bibliography (see below), use a full citation even though the item is part of the same collection.

Bibliography entry: [None]

  • Hint: Section 14.207 states that “citations of website content can often be limited to the notes; in works with no notes, they may be included in the bibliography (cited by the owner or sponsor of the site).”

Item in a University Archives Record Group

First note: Women’s Student Government Association, “Constitution and By-Laws of the Women’s Student Government Association,” 1909, Box 1 Records 1909-1947, Folder 1909, RG 67/43, Women’s Student Government Association Records, University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

Subsequent notes: Women’s Student Government Association, “Constitution and By-Laws,” Women’s Student Government Association Records.

  • Hint: Follow the same format – plus box and/or folder numbers – if citing a different document from the same collection.

Bibliography entry: Women’s Student Government Association Records. RG 67/43. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

  • Hint: Some records in University Archives have subsections that are important to note in a citation. For example, the correspondence of each Chancellor is frequently subdivided into sections such as “General,” “State,” and “Departmental.” These sections also frequently have multiple boxes with the same number that are differentiated by the date range of the records included, e.g. Box 1 for the year 1925 and Box 1 for the year 1930. When citing these records, it’s important to be as specific as possible, including all subsection names, box numbers, box date ranges, and folder names/numbers.

 


Coronavirus Update

The health and safety of our patrons, staff, and community are our highest priority. In accordance with campus-wide policies regarding COVID-19, Kenneth Spencer Research Library is currently closed to the public until further notice.

Spencer staff members are working remotely and remain available to assist researchers virtually. We are able to provide research support and fulfill reproduction requests, although these services will be limited and delayed. Please submit all questions and requests to ksrlref@ku.edu.

Researchers can also browse KU Libraries' digital collections.

Contact

Caitlin Donnelly Klepper
Head of Public Services
cdonnelly@ku.edu
785-864-4456

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