Skip to Main Content

Environmental Design Archives: Using the Finding Aid


How to Read a Finding Aid

A Finding Aid is a document that provides a description of an archival collection to guide people in using the collection for research. The finding aid includes a narrative overview of the collection, with a listing of materials by box, folder, or in some cases by item. The finding aid used to assist the researcher in determining whether or not the collection meets his/her research needs. Below are some of the common elements of a finding aid. Not all finding aids will incorporate these elements, but this sample should reflect a range of options researchers might encounter in finding aid formats. 

Summary Information

Title Page: The beginning of the finding aid includes the name of the archival repository, the title of the archival collection, finding aid creation information, and a date range for the materials.

Summary Information: This section lists the creator of the materials, call numbers, a brief description (abstract) of the collection contents, the size and extent of the collection (in boxes and linear feet), and language(s) represented in the collection. 




Biographical Note

The biographical note section of the finding aid will have a biography on either, the person or firm if it's a collection of personal papers or history of the organization. This section will help you to understand the context in which these records were created and sometimes provide important background information.



Scope and Content Notes

The scope and content notes in a finding aid will describe what will be found in the collection. It will tell you the type of material (example- photographs, correspondence, blueprints, etc.). 



Access and Use

If there are any restrictions placed on an archival collection that will prevent researchers from having access to it this information will be noted here. Other information in this section includes how the archives received the collection, citation notes and copyright, and storage location. ​




Contents Listing

Sometimes called “Container list,” or “Inventory List.” This is a box-by-box, folder-by-folder listing of the materials stored in the collection. The level of detail in this section may vary depending on the collection scope and individual repository practices.


Subject Terms

This section includes a list of terms, topics, names, etc., covered in the collection and is usually linked to a library catalog to provide the researcher with materials in similar categories.