A finding aid is the primary tool for accessing and understanding archival materials. Finding aids establish a historical context for the collection, describe the scope and contents of the materials, indicate how the collection is arranged, and list where the collection is located and it may be accessed.
Finding aids are usually documents of several pages which commonly have the following parts. Click on the tabs in this box to learn about the common parts of a finding aid.
NOTE: The examples provided here are from finding aids in the Iowa State University Special Collections and University Archives Department. While the major elements are found in finding aids at most archives, each archives generally uses a slightly different format.
Collection number: The number used to refer to the collection. At Iowa State, these take the form of MS 314 or RS 08/08/04. Sometimes called a "reference code." (formal definition)
Context: How something was used, kept, and/or came into being. (formal definition)
Extent: The physical quantity of material in the collection (formal definition)
Finding Aid: A document prepared by the archives that establishes a historical context for the collection, describes the scope and contents of the materials, indicates how the collection is arranged, and lists where the collection is located and how it may be accessed. (formal definition)
Original Order: The arrangement in which the materials were kept while they were being actively used. (formal definition)
Restriction: A limitation on how or when a person can access and/or use the collection or parts of the collection. (formal definition)
Series: A group of similar records within a collection (formal definition)