Collections & Research

Citizens, officials and students interested in Missouri history, biography and genealogy find in the Society library unsurpassed reference collections. The library of books, pamphlets and official state publications total more than 460,000 items. There are also more than 500,000 manuscript items and 800 reels of microfilmed manuscripts, more than 150,000 state archival records, and more than 2,900 maps.

b/w photo of Minnie Organ, the Society's first paid staff member and a native of Dent County

Minnie Organ, the Society's first paid staff member, was a native of Dent
County. Hired as assistant librarian in 1901, Organ remained with the Society until 1910.

Collections & Research

  • Research Requests
  • Visiting the Research Center
  • Using the Collection
  • Research Hints & Reminders

Research Requests

Please read the Research Policy before submitting a request.

Prepayment of Research Fee is required and does not guarantee success.

Research requests can be submitted by:

Prior to Arrival

The Society’s research centers are located in Cape Girardeau, Columbia, Kansas City, Rolla, Springfield and St. Louis. Before arriving, visitors should contact research center staff to verify that the manuscript collection they would like to view is available, as materials may be restricted, in storage, or located at another research center. Collections stored at one research center can be viewed at any of the others; transfers between campus research centers usually takes 48 hours. Microfilmed collections can be borrowed through interlibrary loan.

Historical Society of Missouri Research Center Locations

Upon Arrival

Holdings are non-circulating and must be used on the premises. Visitors must provide a government-issue photo ID, and read and sign a rules and consent form before using manuscript material. Researchers will then be issued a research center card.

Examples of accepted government-issued photo IDs:
  • Driver’s License
  • State ID
  • Military ID
  • Passport

General Facility Protocol

For security purposes, patrons using the Research Center-Columbia are asked to leave coats, jackets, briefcases, backpacks, and similar articles in lockers. Only items such as paper, pencils, notes, and laptop computers are allowed in the center. These items, plus sweaters worn when the room is cool, will be subject to search by Society personnel upon departure.

Patrons may use cameras with the permission of the staff. For security reasons, camera bags and equipment cases are not allowed in the Research Center. The Society staff reserves the right to prohibit the photographing of a particular item based on fragile condition or if photography is a known violation of copyright law. Patrons are responsible for observing copyright law. No scanners are allowed in the Research Center.

The Society requires every researcher to use a pencil while in the research center. Using pencils to take notes is routine practice in most archival and manuscript repositories. Staff members are happy to provide pencils to patrons who do not bring one with them.

Once the staff has provided a manuscript collection to a researcher, the researcher is only allowed to take one folder out of one box at a time. Because it is very important to preserve the existing order of the papers in each folder, researchers should read through the material like a book, and refrain from removing papers out of the folder. Staff members can assist patrons who need to flag manuscript material for copying if they are uncomfortable doing so. Researchers should report any disarrangement to the reference staff. Failure to comply with the rules and staff direction will lead to the suspension or revocation of research privileges.

All photocopying is handled by the staff. Collections cannot be reproduced in their entirety. Orders of over 200 pages will be photocopied at the staff's discretion based on previously scheduled work. Copies will be stamped with a copyright notice. Audio and video materials held by the Society are for research use only, but may be reproduced on a case-by-case basis.

Finding Aids

Researchers should be aware that manuscript and archival materials are indexed and described differently than books or other published items located in a traditional library. Whereas a book in a library is treated as a single item when it is cataloged, the materials in a manuscript or archival repository are usually described in an overview, such as a collection inventory. Because there can be literally thousands of pages in one collection, The State Historical Society of Missouri staff does not describe each item. For example, the time it would take to describe each letter in a congressional collection prohibits any type of item-level description.

The finding aids at The State Historical Society of Missouri are designed to guide researchers to a particular folder or box in a collection. From there, it is the researcher’s responsibility to locate information about their topic in the folder or box. Researchers also must keep the papers in the exact order and facing in the same direction that they found them.

Collection Inventories

An inventory is the most extensive description of a collection. Relevant information, such as the collection name, number, size, restrictions, and whether or not it is on microfilm can be found on an inventory. In addition, there are several detailed sections that include: an introduction, the donor information, a biographical or organizational sketch, the scope and content notes, and a list of materials within the collection. It is very important that researchers read over all of the sections.

Subject Guides

Researchers can access brief descriptions of collections and some complete inventories on the Society’s website’s subject guides list or by using the site’s search box to search by keyword. The subject guides were derived by grouping collections under relevant topics. Some collections are listed under more than one heading, depending on the type of information they relate. Researchers can browse topics of interest, which is especially helpful for those who are not familiar with our holdings but have a specific subject in mind. The brief descriptions in the subject guides are listed in alphabetical order by collection name. In addition to the collection name, the guides offer concise, general information, such as the collection number, inclusive dates, size, whether a collection is restricted, and if it is available on microfilm. Many researchers benefit from browsing the inclusive dates for a collection, especially if they can narrow their topic to specific time period.


Researchers should be prepared to complete several forms when they visit. These have been carefully designed for several reasons: to make easier access to the collections, to ensure that materials are accounted for and preserved, and to help the staff determine trends in reference use. Depending upon an individual’s research needs, reference staff may ask visitors to fill out a rules and consent form, collection request form, copy request form, or a permission to publish, exhibit, or broadcast form.

Restricted Collections

Restrictions on the use of certain manuscript collections may have been imposed by donors.

Some collections may be closed until a specific date in the future and cannot be accessed until that time. For access to some collections, a researcher may need to contact the donor or other responsible party for permission. In this case, researchers must specifically ask for permission to use and to make copies from the collection. Generally, researchers ask for a letter of permission from the donor and that letter, in its original form, must be presented to the reference staff. Staff members will provide researchers with the donor’s contact information.

Other restrictions pertain to publication, whereas the donor has retained copyrights to his or her materials, and researchers must be granted permission from the donor before publishing items from the collection.

Researchers should be aware of the restrictions on photocopying and publication imposed by the Copyright Act of 1976. It is the responsibility of the researchers or their publishers to determine the copyright status or obtain the required permissions before publication of manuscript material from the Library's collections.

The online subject guides and collection inventories state whether a collection is restricted or not, but the specific restriction is not provided. For more information about a restricted collection, researchers should contact the reference staff.


Any item quoted from or used in its entirety should be cited as belonging to The State Historical Society of Missouri. The citation should read as follows: [collection name, inclusive dates, collection number], The State Historical Society of Missouri Manuscript Collection.

Citation Example

Arthur Mastick Hyde, Papers, 1913-1954 (C0007), The State Historical Society of Missouri Manuscript Collection.

Most researchers quote from a source and that practice usually falls under “Fair Use” of the U.S. Copyright Law. See copyright section below for more information about those topics.


The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) governs the making of photocopies and other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be “used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research.” If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of “fair use,” that user may be liable for copyright infringement. The State Historical Society of Missouri reserves the right to refuse a copy order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law. More information is provided by the U.S. Copyright Office.

The nature of historical archival collections means that copyright or other information about restrictions may be difficult or even impossible to determine. Whenever possible, The State Historical Society of Missouri will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions from our donor records, finding aids, illustration captions, and other texts that accompany collections. The State Historical Society of Missouri provides such information as a service to aid researchers in determining the appropriate use of an item, but that determination ultimately rests with the researcher.

The State Historical Society of Missouri may or may not own rights to material in its collections. However, The State Historical Society of Missouri does charge permission fees for use of such material and can give or deny permission to publish or otherwise distribute material in its collections. It is the researcher's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in The State Historical Society of Missouri's collections.

The granting of permission to publish by The State Historical Society of Missouri does not absolve users of materials from securing permission from copyright owners. Researchers using The State Historical Society of Missouri materials in publications, exhibitions, broadcasts, and web sites assume all responsibility for questions of copyright and invasion of privacy that may arise from that use.

Permission to publish, exhibit, broadcast, or digitize an item from The State Historical Society of Missouri must be requested and granted in writing on a "Permission to Publish" form. Permission to publish materials on the internet must also be granted from The State Historical Society of Missouri. Additional policies govern publishing on the internet. Use fees may apply. These fees support the maintenance and preservation of the collections. Materials should be cited as belonging to: The State Historical Society of Missouri.