Research that normally would have been conducted in the field or exploring collections at other institutions drastically changed in a short amount of time. Universities, libraries, archives, and other institutions have closed around the world. While constraints have been put on travel, interaction, and access, there are still ways to locate and get access to digital content. More and more collections around the world have been digitized, creating improved access to materials that at one time may have only been available on-site.
Tracking down digital materials can be difficult because they can come from a variety of places. For example, content can be made available:
Because there isn't one single place to identify all digital collections, a good start is to reach out a librarian, archivist, or curator for where you might start. For Sociology, you can always start with me firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
Determine what type of materials you need and how soon
Your research may need the use of primary source documents, datasets, images, speeches, newspapers, film, etc. How do these materials fit in to your research? Is it something that you need right now, or something that can wait?
We may have access to it already
Northwestern University Libraries subscribe to many, many databases of all kinds. It is always best to check with your librarian first to see if we have what you need already. It will save you a lot of time and energy, and if we don't have what you need, we can help figure out who does.
Likely places that might have what you need
One way to figure out where materials are located is by considering who would be concerned with what you are looking for. If you are looking for statistics for example, governments collect all kinds of data and often make them freely available. University research strengths are often reflected in the library collections that support it. If a university is known for a specific subject, they may be good places to explore for relevant materials.
Not all collections that exist are available digitally
Making collections available digitally involves a lot of time and work including the processing of collections, digitizing, permissions, description and adding metadata to make it discoverable, and more. For rare materials, preservation considerations ensure no damage comes to materials. Smaller institutions and organizations may not have the resources to digitize materials and can only rely on in-house collections.
Does the digital content represent all of the collection?
Digital collections may only reflect a small amount of the total holdings of a library or archive. It is not always easy to determine if what is available digitally is all of it, or a piece of a larger collection. Library Catalogs and Archival finding aids are good places to start in trying to identify the scope of the collection. You can always reach out to those libraries or organizations to inquire about the scope of a collection.
Do you need access to a very specific item or do you just need any materials related to your research topic?
Consider if you need that specific item, or any item related to your topic. There may be cases where what you need is only in one place, and not available digitally.This often requires a level of discussion with librarians, archivists, and curators to determine the possibilities of access.
If you do need a specific item and have time, you can still do the leg work now
This is a good rule of thumb to have if you need to do research elsewhere, regardless of the current global situation.Talk to librarians, archivists, and curators at whatever institution has what you need to gather all the information about what is available, policies and procedures on accessing collections on-site, and possibilities of requesting scans. When libraries and archives do open up again, you will be ready to focus on viewing what you need.
Below is a guide from the Society of American Archivists that is specific to archives, but provides helpful tips when accessing any other library collections.