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What is a Finding Aid?
A finding aid is a document that assists patrons who wish to use a manuscript collection for research. It may be created in different forms. At the W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library at The University of Alabama, we create finding aids as text documents and convert them to PDFs for the web. Finding aids, like manuscript collections, may vary greatly in size. Finding aids at the Hoole Library vary in size from one page to more than 300 pages.
The finding aid should offer a variety of information about the manuscript collection it describes. A researcher should use the finding aid to help him understand the contents of a collection and how it is organized. Researchers should keep in mind that the finding aid is not part of the collection; it merely describes the collection. In addition, the finding aid does not contain actual materials from the collection.
Finding aids at the Hoole Library are DACS(Describing Archives: A Content Standard) compliant, following the Society of American Archivists' descriptive standards, and offer at the minimum the folowing information about each collection:
Usually includes the creator of the collection along with a basic description of the materials in the collection. If a collection created by Thomas Jones Taylor contains only one type of material, such as letters or diaries, then the collection title will be "Thomas Jones Taylor letters." Many collections contain several types of material such as letters, diaries, financial records, and photographs.
The creator of a collection might be an individual, family, civic organization, business, or other entities. In addition, an individual or organization may have gathered materials created by someone else.
Manuscript collection number:
Each manuscript collection is assigned a unique four-digit identification number.
Extent or size of the collection:
Size of a collection is usually expressed in linear feet, unless the collection is quite small, then it's size is described on the item level. For example, we might describe the size of a small collection of letters as "12 items".
Access to some collections may be restricted either by donor request or so that the institution may adhere to privacy laws protecting, for example, personal medical history.
The official title, including the library and university name, patrons should use when referencing the collection in a published work.
Biographical or Organizational History:
Usually presented in narrative form, this section of the finding aid provides background information about the creator or creating agency. When possible, the creator's complete biography is included. The biographical or organizational history may include information found in the collection as well as published sources.
Scope and Contents Note:
Describes the contents of the collection and should give the reader an idea of the kinds of materials in the collection. The scope and contents note should highlight the strengths of the collection.
Languages used in the collection:
Lists of all languages represented in the collection.
Lists the box, folder number, and folder titles for the collection.
Includes a code for the country(US), a repository code(ALM), and an identification number for each collection(4-digit number assigned by staff).