October is Archives Month, with a theme of "Celebrating the American Record" as designated by the Society of American Archivists, and October 19-25th is North Carolina Archives Week. Archives are essential to the historical record, and include a wide range of document types, including such things as letters, legal records, transcripts, photographs, reports, manuscripts, ephemera, artifacts, realia, tapes, and materials in electronic and other formats as well.
The University of North Carolina holds vast archival collections, and finding aids (or guides) to the collections can be found for a large number of these in the online catalog and on the Wilson Library web site. There is also a variety of Health Affairs-related collections, and the finding aids to many of these are accessible in the Archival Collections section of the Special Collections web site. Archival collections at the Health Sciences Library include the papers of the renowned medical illustrator, Dr. Frank Netter, and the internationally recognized water and sanitation researcher, Dr. Daniel Okun.
Many other institutions around the state, country, and world have significant archival holdings. The National Library of Medicine, for example, is highlighting its archival collections concerning Health Care Accessibility and Reform this month. The Library of Congress also has extensive archival collections for which finding aids are available online, and a number of these collections contain information on women's health and their involvement in the medical professions. The Library of Congress also maintains the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections.
The National Records and Archives Administration (NARA) was established in 1934 and is currently celebrating its 75th anniversary; a photo gallery of its history as an institution is available online. Among the many millions of documents that it preserves are the Charters of Freedom: the Declaration of Independence; the Constitution of the United States; and the Bill of Rights. A sense of the scope of other holdings can be had from the online subject index. Although its holdings are vast, only an estimated 1-3% of government records are held by NARA, and of these records, only a fraction is available in electronic form. Agency-specific collections include, among many others: Records of the National Institutes of Health; Records of the Health Resources and Services Administration; Records of the Environmental Protection Agency; Records of the Food and Drug Administration; Records of the Public Health Service; and Records of the Indian Health Service.
The American Medical Association maintains historical archives, and information on their use is available online. Only AMA members have access to the archives, with the exception of the Historical Health Fraud Collection, which may be used by non-members on a fee-for-service basis. A descriptive summary of more than 50 collections is available for download.
In North Carolina, archives of interest include the North Carolina State Archives, Duke University Medical Center Archives, Wake Forest Medical Archives, and the History Collections at East Carolina University. The Society of North Carolina Archivists maintains a list of links to other archives in the state.
In addition, there are several other tools that can be helpful in conducting archival research, including ArchiveGrid and WorldCat, which are UNC e-resources, Repositories of Primary Sources, and the UNESCO Archives Portal, which provides access to collections around the world. The HSL Special Collections web site also features a guide to research resources.
The Society of American Archivists is currently conducting an online survey about how people use archives in the US, and welcomes responses by November 30, 2009. The SAA also has two informative guides online for those interested in learning more about donating either personal or organizational materials to collecting institutions: A Guide to Donating Your Personal or Family Papers to a Repository and A Guide to Donating Your Organizational Records to a Repository.