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What is a Finding Aid?
A finding aid is a tool archivists create so that researchers can learn more about the collection before delving into the actual collection. Finding aids are designed to help researchers work more effectively. All of the finding aids for our collection can be found either online, through our website, or in print in the Special Collections Reading Room.
Here at Special Collections and Archives at Southeast Missouri State University we divide our larger finding aids into 4 parts. Our smaller finding aids consist of the information found in the first two sections.
1). Title Page
The title page provides the most basic information about the collection, and consists of the following:
  • Title- titles are determined by the collector, creator, or subject of the collection.
  • Dates- indicates the date of the earliest item in the collection, and the latest date of the collection. Sometimes there will be other dates listed in [brackets], these are bulk dates, which means that the majority of documents in the collection fall within those dates.
  • Extent (or size)- the amount of material in the collection. This is usually expressed as the number of items for a smaller collection, or as linear feet for a larger collection. A linear foot is the length of the space that a collection takes up on a shelf.
  • Accession Number- a unique number that we use to identify collections in our system
  • Abstract-a very brief summary of the collection.
2). Descriptive Overview
This section contains a more in-depth look at the collection and the following parts:
  • Provenance- where the collection came from, who created/collected it, and how it came to be located at Special Collections and Archives.
  • Restrictions-not all collections are available to the public at all times. Some collections have restrictions on them based on the wishes of the donor; others need to be restricted based on privacy issues, or based on the physical condition of the collection itself.
  • Biographical Note/ Organizational Sketch/ Historical Note- significant background information on the creator/author of the collection materials. This information connects the creator of the materials to the materials themselves. This section may be written based on materials in the collection, as well as information from other sources.
  • Scope and Content Note- a comprehensive summary of the collection. This section tells what types of materials are found in the collection, and highlights the strengths (i.e., well-documented topics) and the weaknesses (i.e., less well-documented topics) of the collection. The scope and content note also explains the way the collection is organized and other information the archivist feels is relevant to a researcher
This is not an extensive list of the parts that may appear in the Descriptive Overview. Other information will vary depending on the needs of each unique collection. Some collections may have materials in languages other than English, and some collections have been cross-referenced to other collections with similar subject matter. These are just a few examples of additional information that may be in this section.
3). Series Descriptions
Collections are typically organized into sections called series.  Series are arranged based on the type of materials they contain. For example, typical series are correspondence or photographs.  Series can be further subdivided into subseries, which correspond to subject.
                    Series I: Reports
                                    Subseries 1: Annual reports
                                    Subseries 2: Budget Reports
In this example the Series is Reports. Then the reports have been further broken down into the subseries annual reports and budget reports.
4). Container Listing
Container listings give the box number, folder number, and folder titles for the collection.  This provides you with the specific information that will give to us so that we can give you the files that you need.
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