Course:3: Processing
Lesson:Lesson 4: Description
Topic:Finding Aids

Finding Aids

Finding aids are also referred to as inventories or registers by some programs. Finding aids provide detailed information about collections, describing not just the content of the collection, but the context in which it was created. They answer questions such as:

  • Where did the records come from?
  • Why were they created?
  • How do they relate to other records?
  • Why are they significant?

Elements of a Finding Aid

The informational elements of a finding aid will vary from program to program.  At the core of a finding aid, however, are the following elements:

  • Name of the program that holds the collection

  • Unique collection number

  • Collection title
  • Collection dates
  • Name of creating entity
  • Biographical sketch or organizational history
  • Records description
  • Access restrictions
  • Inventory list of boxes and folders

The finding aid is what you and your researchers will use to get an idea of whether the records have the information they are looking for.

definition logo

Finding Aid. Any descriptive item that identifies the scope, contents, and significance of records. Basic finding aids include guides, inventories, card catalogues, indexes, and lists.


Example icon

Some larger programs make their finding aids available on the web. Here are a few to look at:

The New York Public Library

Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Institutional Archives of The Art Institute of Chicago
Finding Aid to the Albert Einstein Archives

Wright Brothers Collection at Wright State University