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Archives & Special Collections

Finding Aid Tutorial

Finding aids are used to describe archives and manuscript collections in order to provide access to their contents. Finding aids provide information about both the creator(s) of the records and the records themselves. An inventory is sometimes used in place of a finding aid, and generally does not include a Historical Note, Scope & Contents Note, Arrangement, or Series Descriptions. Rather, the inventory contains basic information and a brief abstract about the collection, and a container listing of its contents. Finding aids have several components:

· Title: The title provides information on the title for the collection and the date range of the records that make up the collection.

· Overview of the Collection: This section follows the title and provides information regarding the size of the collection, its collection number, its creator, and the date range of its records. The Overview also includes a brief abstract about the collection's records and creator.

· Administrative Information: This section contains information regarding preferred citation format, and the history (provenance) of the records in the collection and their acquisition. There is also information on what persons processed the collection for research.

· Restrictions: This section addresses access restrictions (if any) and copyright restrictions.

· Biographical Sketch, Administrative History or Historical Note: This section provides information on the history of creator of the records, whether the creator is an individual, family, office or organization. Historical information on the creator of the records allows for a better understanding of the collection. This section might be in either a narrative or a chronological format, or both. Some finding aids include a Chronology in addition to a Historical Note, Administrative History or Biographical Sketch.

· Scope & Contents Note: This section describes the strengths and weaknesses of the collection as a whole. The section will indicate not only which topics, materials and time periods are strongly represented in the collection, but also if there is a lack of representation in a area where a researcher would expect to find records. The Scope & Contents Note also describes the arrangement of the records in the collection.

· Arrangement: This section shows the hierarchical arrangement scheme for the records in the collection. An inventory will usually not include this section.

· Index Terms: This section includes the terms that would be used to index the collection in a library catalog. Index terms include subject terms, personal names, and organization names.

· Series Descriptions & Container Listing: A series is a unit of records that has been grouped together based on a common function or format, or because of a relationship arising from their creation or use. The Series Descriptions would include the name of the series and a description, date range and extent for its contents. A records series may be further divided into subseries. Each series (or subseries) description is followed by a listing of its contents. The container list includes a listing of the folders or items contained in the collection. This listing includes the box and/or folder numbers, the item or folder’s title and the date range of the record(s).