n.a description that typically consists of contextual and structural information about an archival resourceMiller 1990, 86–87In finding and preparing the information for various finding aids, archivists use both historical research skills and methods drawn from information science. Historical skills will be used in researching histories and biographies, and in identifying major activities, functions, events, participants, and processes. Even in the age of automation, archivists should be able to organize and write a narrative description of the content and context of records.Maher 1992, 101The most important descriptive tool will be a catalog arranged by provenance and containing a summary description of each record series and manuscript collection held by the repository. These descriptions are the primary finding aids because they represent a uniform level of description for all archival holdings regardless of the size and complexity of each series or collection . . . the basic categories of information are the same for all primary finding aids: name and number of record group and subgroup, title of record series or manuscript collection, inclusive dates, physical volume, notes on availability of more detailed finding aids, physical location, access restrictions, dates acquired, and a summary narrative description.SAA 1994The archives should employ a system of finding aids that reflects current professional standards and provides essential information about the holdings for users and enables the archivist to retrieve materials. Finding aids should provide intellectual control and should proceed from the general to the specific.Walch 1994Standards for archival finding aids ¶ As is evident in the previous chapters, most recent efforts in this country have focused on the development of standards needed in automated information systems, especially those operating in the “shared environments” of the national bibliographic networks. For the most part, the descriptive “product” associated with these systems is a catalog record.Schellenberg 1996, 204The National Archives has developed a finding aid program that has taken its character from the records with which it has to deal.Roe 2005, 86At a minimum, a basic finding aid (referred to by many archivists as an “inventory” or “descriptive inventory”) should be developed for archival holdings. From that finding aid, additional finding aids can be created depending on the intended audience, the nature of the records, or the institutional goals.Szary 2008, 255Finding aids are often large and complex documents. With hard copy delivery mechanisms, users must review tens or hundreds of pages of listings to identify descriptions of materials that might be of interest to their research topic. . . . The ability to encode structure as well as content is critical to displaying the description within which a term that conveys to the user how the described materials fit into the structure of the entire body of materials of which it is a part.Purcell 2012, 175The archivist creates intellectual control of the collection by surveying, processing, and creating a finding aid for the material. . . . Archivists create finding aids or inventories to describe the intellectual arrangement and content of the processed collection. Finding aids are the road maps for archival collections.Walton 2017, 30The traditional archival finding aid was a physical document crafted by an archivist that expressed the structure and content of a collection of materials only accessible from the controlled environment of a supervised reading room. However, in the last few decades, the archival finding aid has transitioned from static document to online interface. Online archival description represents a major step forward in that it facilitates enhanced discovery through remote interaction with collections and allows for wider and easier access to previously sequestered archival materials.DACS 2019, 58Commentary: Finding aid is a broad term that covers any type of description or means of reference made or received by an archival repository in the course of establishing administrative or intellectual control over archival materials. The term “finding aid” can include a variety of descriptive tools prepared by an archives (e.g., guides, calendars, inventories, box lists, indexes, etc.) or prepared by the creator of the records (e.g., registers, indexes, transfer lists, classification schemes, etc.). Such tools provide a representation of, or a means of access to, the materials being described that enables users to identify material relating to the subject of their inquiries. An archival repository’s descriptive system will likely consist of various types of finding aids, each serving a particular purpose.Wiedeman 2019a, 384The finding aid emerged in American archives practice during the 1930s and 1940s as a general blanket term that included a variety of paper-based management methods for intellectual control of archival materials.Coup 2021, 1Finding aids have long been an essential part of archivists’ work. To create a finding aid is to create a surrogate of an archival collection. Multiple levels of description are used to distill information about the unique groupings and parts of a collection and to place its contents into context.
Often a finding aid places archival resources in context by consolidating information about the collection, such as acquisition and processing; provenance, including administrative history or biographical note; scope of the collection, including size, subjects, media; organization and arrangement; and an inventory of the series and the folders. Finding aids could also describe a single level or a single item.