How Do Archivists Describe Collections? (or How to Read a Finding Aid)

Archives @ PAMA

Anyone doing archival research will eventually find themselves using archival descriptions. Archival descriptions are embodied in what are often called “finding aids.” They are the archival world’s equivalent to a catalogue entry in a library catalogue.

20160225_170236 Paper copies of finding aids are often available in the reading room of archives. Electronic versions are also commonly available via archival databases (see the end of this post).

Most people are familiar with interpreting a library catalogue entry (say in an online library
database). Getting the most out of archival descriptions, however, requires a little basic orientation. Once you learn something about the concepts, terminology, and techniques that archivists use to represent the uniqueness and complexity of archives, you’ll be much better placed to find the material you need using archival descriptions.

In this post, we’ll walk you through an archival description by dissecting a portion of an adapted finding aid here at the…

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