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 how it may be accessed.
Finding aids used to be primarily printed documents but many are available online. Our finding aids are available online in our archival catalog, CARDinal. Click on the tabs in this box to learn about the common parts of our finding aids.
NOTE: The examples provided here are from finding aids in the Iowa State University Special Collections and University Archives. While the major elements are found in finding aids at most archives, each archives generally uses a slightly different format.
Collection Overview section contains Access Restrictions & Use/Re-Use Restrictions. At the top right hand corner of this section there is also a Citation button.
In Additional Description there is information on Copies and Processing Information, and the tab Finding Aid & Administrative Information includes Collection Number, Title, date ranges.
Repository Details is the last tab on page and includes contact information.
Scope and Content is located in the Collection Overview section.
Biography/Profile information is located in Collection Overview.
You can see how a collection is organized by viewing Collection Organization.
Another option is to scroll down to Additional Description and the Arrangement of the collection is shared here also.
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 an "identifier" or "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)
You can find digital materials by searching CARDinal. From the homepage, click "Digital Materials" in the top navigation bar.
Once you are on the page showing all of the digital materials, you can search in the "Filter Results" box on the right-hand side of the screen.
Special Collections and University Archives has a tradition of digitizing and providing online access to its collections. The links below take you to websites where you can search these digital objects. Some objects can be downloaded in high quality for use. For others, please contact us at email@example.com to learn about options for obtaining a high quality image.
You will get access to the materials much faster if you contact the archives in advance. Here's why: