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.