EmoryFindingAid FAQ

What is a finding aid?
What are the key elements to look for in a finding aid?
Are unprocessed collections included in the database?
Why do some finding aids have detailed series descriptions and container lists and others do not?
How do I access the material described in a finding aid?
If I see a mistake or error, what should I do?

What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is a detailed guide to an archival collection, similar to the index found in the back of a book. Created by archivists, a finding aid provides contextual information and detailed descriptions of the material and allows users to determine whether or not a collection may meet their research needs.

What are the key elements to look for in a finding aid?

Descriptive Summary:

  • Repository name: Indicates the library that houses the collection and their contact information.
  • Creator: The name of the person, family, government agency, business, organization, conference, or meeting that is primarily responsible for the creation and use of the material.
  • Extent: This indicates how big a collection is, and how many boxes, bound volumes, or oversized boxes in which it is housed.
  • Call number: This is a unique number used to identify the collection and retrieve it for use in the reading room.

Collection Description:

  • Biographical note: Contains basic information about the creator of the collection, such as birth and death dates, occupations, family relationships, and other identifying information.
  • Scope and content note: An overview of the contents of the collection and the date ranges.  Information included in this note will highlight collection strengths, as well as indicate significant gaps in dates or types of material.

Administrative Information:

  • Restriction information: Portions of a collection may be restricted due to privacy concerns, donor restrictions, or because of preservation concerns.  There may also be restrictions relating to photocopying or personal camera use.  In addition, some collections are stored off-site and require advance notice to be able to access the material in the reading room.  It is important to make note of any use or reproduction restrictions before you visit the reading room and plan accordingly.

  • Selected search terms: These are terms that describe the significant subjects, people, and places covered in a collection.  Click on any one of these terms to find other collections which contain similar subjects.

  • Series descriptions and container lists: Simple collections include a basic container list, which is a detailed box and folder listing of the material.  If a collection is more complex, it will also include a series description, which outlines the way in which the material has been organized, most often into types of material.  Common series include correspondence, writings, subject files, or photographs.  Each series will then have its own container list. 

Are unprocessed collections included in the database?

Yes, the database includes finding aids for collections that are unprocessed.  In general, these finding aids contain brief biographical or historical information, a general overview of the contents of the collections, and a preliminary inventory if available.

Why do some finding aids have detailed series descriptions and container lists and others do not?

As noted above, some collections have not been fully processed, and therefore we can only provide a broad overview of the contents of the collection.  Keep in mind, research into these collections may require a bit more time because material relevant to your topic may be harder to find.

How do I access the material described in a finding aid?

Click on the Request Materials tab to access a form which will be sent directly to the corresponding institution.  You many also directly contact the repository which holds the material. See the list of participating institutions for contact information.

If I see a mistake or error, what should I do?
  • If you see a factual or typographical error or experience technical problems, please use our feedback form.
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