Thursday, November 12, 2015

What is a Finding Aid?

Co-written by Jasmine Smith and Joy Scherry

A finding aid is a descriptive document used by archivists to help researchers gain understanding and access to the contents of a collection.  From finding aids, researchers learn basic details about a collection including:
  •          the collection’s title,
  •         the creator or author of the records found within (not the archivist who wrote the finding aid),
  •          the collection’s location in the archives,
  •          dates of the materials found within,
  •          the extent or size of the collection measured in linear or cubic feet,
  •          what languages a researcher might encounter,
  •          how the collection is arranged – chronological, alphabetical, by subject etc.  

Other narrative fields or sections found in a finding aid include the scope and content note which summarizes the most important features a researcher will encounter within the collection.  This typically includes a summary of the most significant dates, people and moments found within the collection and the format the collection’s records will take – journals, scrapbooks, photographs, correspondence, newspapers, etc.  Finding aids additionally include a biographical history section to provide researchers with background information about the collection’s subjects and creator in order to construct a context that allows the researcher to see a bigger picture that might not be immediately clear from the records within a collection.

The second half of a finding aid is composed of the collection inventory.  Below is a chart describing the traditional, organizational hierarchy of collections and the terminology a researcher is likely to find. Click the image to enlarge it. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Winterthur Trip

Written by Daniel DelViscio

Update from our last post:

This past week on November 4th we at the Delaware State University Archives took a wonderful tour of the conservation facilities at the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library. We were given a look behind the scenes at the book and library department, science analytics lab, and the paper conservation department.  

Do you remember this photograph to the right? If not, see our last post. I asked a conservator on the tour how they might go about reconditioning a photograph with rust damage. First, consideration is given to the historical value of the item. As archivists we have to consider if it is worth the time and money to restore something in your collection. Conservators have similar thought processes. They take into account how much conservation is necessary because sometimes the methods they use are detrimental to the object. With this photograph of David Warner the first step is to identify the photograph’s chemical composition. The conservator would have to decide, based on that information, what type of bleach is suitable to remove the rust stain.  The process of bleaching a photograph is like using chemotherapy to destroy cancer. A conservator can only use this method to a point before he/she has done more harm than good.

Each department at Winterthur specializes in a certain object group. We were shown labs for furniture, painting, textile conservation, and more.  Learning about the processes and techniques conservators use was fascinating, and if I wasn’t so awful at chemistry I’d love to learn how to do it myself. If you are thinking of taking a tour of Winterthur I highly recommend it. I’m told the Yuletide tours around Christmas are especially cool with nighttime events like the Yuletide Jazz and Wine and live musical performances.